Mario Draghi told to drop membership of secretive bankers’ club

The president of the European Central Bank has been told by the EU’s watchdog he should drop his membership of a secretive club of corporate bankers, after claims the group had been given an inside seat from which it could influence key policies.

Following a year-long investigation, Mario Draghi was informed on Wednesday by the European ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, that his close relationship with the Washington-based G30 group threatened the reputation of the bank, despite his assurances to the contrary.

The exclusive club of 33 members, of which only two are women, are chosen by an anonymous board of trustees, it emerged during the ombudsman’s investigation.

Only the identity of its chair, Jacob A Frenkel, the chairman of JPMorgan Chase International, has been made public. It has been reported by Reuters that the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is also a member.

O’Reilly noted the group’s secrecy and lack of transparency over the content of its meetings. She additionally called for a ban on all future presidents of the ECB taking up membership of the club, previously named the Consultative Group on International Economic and Monetary Affairs.

The ruling followed a complaint by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based NGO, which claimed Draghi’s close relationship to G30 was in contravention of its own ethical code.

During his presidency of the ECB, Draghi, an Italian economist who previously worked at Goldman Sachs, attended four meetings, in 2012, 2013 and twice in 2015.

O’Reilly said there was a danger that the bank’s independence could be perceived to have been compromised by Draghi’s involvement with the group, whose members consist of a number of central bank governors, private sector bankers and academics. But she said there was no evidence of sensitive information being shared.

The ombudsman said: “The ECB takes decisions that directly affect the lives of millions of citizens.

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and in consideration of the additional powers given to the ECB in recent years to supervise member state banks in the public interest, it is important to demonstrate to that public that there is a clear separation between the ECB as supervisor and the finance industry which is affected by its decisions.”

O’Reilly added that any meetings between the ECB and the G30 should also in future be made public and summaries should be provided of the discussions in the meetings.

A complaint in 2012 had been dismissed by the ombudsman, but O’Reilly said times had moved on and the ECB had failed to show how the public benefited from Draghi’s membership. The relationship between the bank and the G30 should “be in alignment with certain of the bank’s own governance rules and codes”, she said.

A spokesman for the ECB said it had taken note of the ruling and would respond in due course.