The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union entrusts the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) with the task of performing the central bank function for the Union. Since some EU Member States do not participate in Economic and Monetary Union, the terms "ESCB" and "Union" are to be read as "Eurosystem" and "euro area", respectively.
The Eurosystem is responsible for defining and implementing the monetary policy of the euro area. This is a public policy function that is implemented mainly by financial market operations. Important for this task is the full control of the Eurosystem over the monetary base. As part of that, the ECB and the national central banks (NCBs) are the only institutions that are entitled to actually issue legal tender banknotes in the euro area. Given the dependence of the banking system on base money, the Eurosystem is thus in a position to exert a dominant influence on money market conditions and money market interest rates.
Foreign exchange operations influence exchange rates and domestic liquidity conditions; both are important variables for monetary policy. Assigning this task to the Eurosystem is therefore logical, also because central banks have the necessary operational facilities. Secondly, if the central bank carries out this task, it ensures that the foreign exchange operations remain consistent with the aims of the central bank's monetary policy.
Payment systems are a means to transfer money between credit and other monetary institutions. This function places them at the heart of an economy's financial infrastructure. Assigning the task of promoting their smooth operation to the Eurosystem acknowledges the importance of having sound and efficient payment systems - not only for the conduct of monetary policy but also for the stability of the financial system and as such for the economy as a whole.
One of the most important reasons for managing the foreign reserves portfolio is to ensure that the ECB has sufficient liquidity to conduct its foreign exchange operations. The ECB's foreign reserves are currently managed in a decentralised manner by the NCBs that opt to take part in operational ECB foreign reserve management activities. These NCBs act on behalf of the ECB in accordance with instructions received from the ECB. Although the NCBs manage their own foreign reserves independently, their operations on the foreign exchange market are, above a certain limit, subject to the approval of the ECB, in order to ensure consistency with the exchange rate and monetary policy of the Eurosystem.
OR.009 01/12European Central Bank