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Podcast: “This is the best idea”
Jana Randow and Alessandro Speciale on the Draghi years
"Whatever it takes".
Slotted into notes for an unpublished speech on 26 July 2012, these were - according to European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde - “the three most successful words in central banking history".
Mario Draghi, her presidential predecessor from 2011-2019, was in London to address a banking conference before attending the Olympics opening ceremony just as the 13-year-old euro was entering a new existential phase of the solvency crisis that had plagued the currency for 30 months.
Six minutes into his address to the conference, write Jana Randow and Alessandro Speciale in Mario Draghi: The True Story of the Man Who Saved the Euro (published in Italian by Rizzoli Libri, 2019 and 2021): "Draghi looks down. Takes a breath. Folds his hands. And says: 'But there is another message I want to tell you. Within our mandate ... within our mandate ... the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro'. Maybe he sees the scepticism on people's faces. He pauses and adds, leaving no doubt about his meaning: 'Believe me, it will be enough'".
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It's been four years since Draghi left the ECB and a year since he stood down as Italy’s prime minister, but Draghi still has mythical status in financial markets and in his home country. “Whatever it takes” was essential to the continued existence of the euro but there was a lot more to the Draghi years than those magic words. We’ve had insiders’ insight from Massimo Rostagno, Pedro Gustavo Teixeira, and Ewald Nowotny but, so far, only Randow and Speciale have done for the ECB what Bob Woodward, David Wessel, and Nick Timiraos1 have done for the US Federal Reserve.
"Draghi had a very distinct style of decision-making – of working with a very small circle of trusted people,” says Jana, who has been covering the ECB under three presidents for 16 years. “That, of course, left a lot of people who weren't part of that circle on the outside … quite disappointed and that created a lot of tensions in the governing council”. Life for the council’s 25 other members has been less tense under Lagarde. “What she's good at is listening to people, giving them room to air their thoughts … hear them out, and then searching for common ideas, looking where tensions could be, and then stitching together a consensus that everyone can live with … Very different to Draghi's basically arriving at a meeting with an idea and saying: ‘This is the best idea. I came up with it. I’ve thought it all through and you can either say yes [or no]”.
Jana Randow has been covering the ECB in Frankfurt for Bloomberg since 2007 and is now their Senior European Economics Correspondent. Since July 2023, Alessandro Speciale has headed Bloomberg's Zurich bureau after running the Rome team through the pandemic years. From 2013-2019, he worked with Jana as ECB correspondent.
For my Writers’ Writers tip sheet, Jana chose Rebel Radio: The Story of El Salvador’s Radio Venceremos by José Ignacio López Vigil (Curbstone Press, 1995 – translated by Mark Fried) and Fabian, Die Geschichte eines Moralisten by Erich Kästner – first published in 1931 and translated by Cyrus Brooks as Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist (NYRB Classics, 2013). Alessandro chose The Magician by Colm Tóibín (Viking, 2021) and Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self by Andrea Wulf (John Murray, 2022).
With Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom (2000), Woodward started a tradition for journalistic fly-on-the-wall accounts from inside the Fed, and was followed by Wessel's In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic (2009), and Timiraos's Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled a President and a Pandemic (2022).