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‘We want to listen’: Lagarde kicks off ECB roadshow

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank said on Monday it was launching a roadshow to collect feedback from citizens across the euro zone, part of efforts by its new chief Christine Lagarde to engage the public as the ECB undertakes a wide-ranging policy review.

Lagarde will herself will kick off the town-hall events — dubbed the “ECB Listens” after a similarly branded event run by the U.S. Federal Reserve last year — in Brussels on March 26. Each of the euro zone’s 19 national central banks has been told to hold at least one such meeting, which will mostly take place in the first half of the year.

“We want to listen to the views, expectations and concerns of the public with an open mind,” Lagarde said in a statement.

The initiative illustrates a marked change in style for the ECB under Lagarde, a former politician with a penchant for public relations who took over from Mario Draghi as president of the euro zone central bank in November.

It is also an indication of the quandary the ECB finds itself in over the adequacy of the inflation data it has used to justify trillions of euros worth of monetary stimulus to support Europe’s economy.

The ECB launched its review last month, a deep dive into the bank’s foray into unconventional policy following the euro zone debt crisis that is likely to bring a redefinition of its inflation target.

Six central bank sources who spoke to Reuters last week were unanimous in believing that input from the public was unlikely to sway deliberations on how to reset the ECB’s definition of price stability, currently worded as an inflation rate “below, but close to 2%”.

But the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the ECB’s deliberations are private, said consultations with audiences ranging from students to clergy meant the ECB was unlikely to make any communication about its new goal until later in the year.

“It would look pretty awful if we put out substantial communication on the review in June because that would mean we are not taking the feedback seriously,” said one of them.

Policymakers are keen to understand why perceptions of inflation among businesses and households are so high and why salary growth in the euro zone is comparatively sluggish.

“Representatives of a wide range of regional and consumer organisations, as well as social partners, will have the opportunity to share their views on the ECB’s policies,” the ECB said on Monday.

Euro zone central bankers will also try to explain the ECB’s activities in simpler language, in line with the personal style of Lagarde, a former French finance minister and ex-head of the International Monetary Fund.

“There is a covert goal of spreading the ECB’s message to the people,” one of the sources said. “It’s an experiment in a new communication approach.”

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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