Duisenberg's Open-Door Policy

Whatever the ECB decides about rates today, we'll find out quickly. Which is more than you can say for the Fed.
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FRANKFURT -- When's the last time

Fed

chief

Alan Greenspan

finished a monetary policy meeting and walked out to confront a roomful of inquisitive reporters?

Dream on. On Wednesday, as always, the

FOMC

meeting ended in Washington without Greenspan coming forward to explain the most recent decision to leave rates unchanged. (Granted, he is forced from time-to-time to face a roomful of

politicians).

Contrast that with European Central Bank President

Wim Duisenberg

: After today's (Thursday) meeting of the ECB's policy-making Governing Council, Duisenberg and ECB Vice President

Christian Noyer

will stroll into a lion's den packed with (mostly) hungry reporters and TV cameras. And for nearly an hour, the cocky Dutchman and the suave Frenchman will field questions about everything from monetary policy and dollar/euro rates to pesky left-wing European finance ministers (i.e.,

Oskar Lafontaine

) and Euroland's economic outlook.

Duisenberg began his role last September holding monthly press conferences after

Governing Council

meetings. He has vowed to continue the practice in an attempt to deflect sharp criticism that the ECB is too secretive and not accountable to the public.

Unlike the Fed and

Bank of England

, the ECB has decided not to publish minutes of policy meetings. Duisenberg and other ECB members have insisted that to do so would make Governing Council members vulnerable to interference from politicians more interested in growth than price stability. Eleven of the 17 council members are the central bank chieftains of the 11 Euroland nations, swooping into Frankfurt twice a month for policy meetings, and back home afterwards.

In nearly every speech the past month, Duisenberg has loudly defended the ECB on charges of being too secretive. He has explained that he will appear regularly before the

European Parliament

, that the ECB will publish a monthly report, and that other ECB members will give numerous speeches. And he mentions the monthly press conferences, which occur "without delay" after Governing Council meetings. Contrast that with the Fed and BOE, which delay by several weeks the release of meeting minutes.

And he might have a valid point. Duisenberg's press conferences are carried live by

Reuters

and

Bloomberg

television. It is well known that traders, economists and other interested ECB watchers gather around their $1,000-plus Reuters or Bloomberg screens to watch Duisenberg in the hope of gathering clues on ECB monetary policy.

They also often see an entertaining

show. Duisenberg loves to preach the gospel of a noninflationary monetary policy and relishes repeating his mantra: maintaining price stability. But he also likes to crack jokes, often managing to elicit chuckles from the crowd.

With Noyer by his side, Duisenberg does most of the talking, always speaking in his pleasant-sounding Dutch-accented English. But he is able to understand questions in French and German as well. While some reporters probe a little, looking for that extra hint of information, many pass up the chance to interrogate one of the most powerful central bankers in the world, preferring instead to pace about in the back of the auditorium brandishing their portable phones.

Few ECB watchers expect a rate change

today. But whatever the Governing Council decides, at least we will get a same-day report from Duisenberg, and most likely a few clues about the monetary policy state-of-mind of the ECB.

Be there (6:30 p.m. Frankfurt time, 12:30 p.m. Wall Street time). Wonder if Mr. Greenspan will be watching?