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The main objective of the European Central Bank (ECB) is price stability. This means that prices should not rise too much (inflation), increase too slowly, or even go down too much (deflation). To achieve this, the ECB takes measures. This is what we call monetary policy.

A long time of low inflation and low interest rates

The ECB wants inflation to be 2% per year in the medium term. But the prices of products and services have been rising less than this target value for years. This is mainly due to structural causes beyond the ECB's sphere of influence, such as globalisation and digitisation. The reduced demand for goods and services led to a further fall in inflation during the coronavirus crisis. The exact impact of the coronavirus crisis on inflation is still unclear.

Inflation in the euro area since the global financial crisis in 2019

View the current infation rates in the ECB's interactive inflation dashboard here.

What measures does the ECB take to keep prices stable?

The ECB has no direct influence on rising and falling prices, but it does have tools to influence inflation indirectly, namely monetary instruments. There is a difference between conventional monetary instruments – such as policy interest rates – and unconventional instruments – such as purchase programmes .

What is accommodative monetary policy?

The ECB pursues accommodative monetary policy – also known as quantitative easing – when it tries to stimulate the economy by providing low interest rates for households, businesses and governments. It does so, for instance, during a recession as currently with the coronavirus crisis. For this, the ECB relies on its interest rate instrument and purchase programmes.

How does the interest rate instrument work?

The ECB influences interest rates on the money market with its official policy rates. These are the interest rates that banks pay to the ECB when they borrow money or hold money on deposits. Under normal conditions, the key policy rates are the accelerator and brake pedals of the economy.

Increasing interest rates

Higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money. As a result, consumers and businesses spend less money. And that puts a brake on the economy, so that prices will rise less rapidly.

Lowering interest rates

Lower interest rates make it cheaper to borrow money. This should encourage consumers and businesses to buy and invest more. In turn, that should lead to higher prices and stimulate the economy. But although interest rates have been low for years, inflation has also remained low.

Low interest rates

How do purchase programmes work?

In purchasing programmes, the ECB and the central banks of the euro area (the Eurosystem) purchase bonds from market participants, reducing market rates. As a result, lending and spending are increased, which leads to economic growth. Examples include the asset purchase programme (APP) and the pandemic emergency purchase programme  (PEPP). The latter was launched in March 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

What is money creation?

As a result of the accommodative monetary policy, demand for credit is increasing. Banks play an important role in the provision of credit. That is how money is created. Watch the video to see exactly what money creation is and how it works.

The ECB’s new monetary strategy

The ECB published its new monetary strategy on 8 July 2021. The Governing Council considers that price stability is best maintained by aiming for a 2% inflation target over the medium term. This target is symmetric, meaning negative and positive deviations of inflation from the target are equally undesirable. In addition, the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) remains the appropriate measure for assessing price stability. Owner-occupied housing will be included in the HICP in due course. At the same time, the ECB is strongly committed to further incorporate climate change considerations into its monetary policy framework. Read more about the ECB's new monetary strategy.

What is the role of DNB and the ECB?

The ECB takes measures for the euro area and all its central banks. Klaas Knot is DNB’s President and has a seat on the ECB’s Governing Council. Staff from different DNB departments advise Klaas Knot in this field and also participate in various international consultative bodies.