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Bundesbank: Not quite dead

When the European Central Bank takes control of monetary policy, what's left for the mighty Bundesbank? And how mighty is it? Its scrap with Bonn over the revaluation of its assets suggests that the central bank tends to back down under pressure. Laura Covill reports.

Flexible, with philosophy intact

Pity the poor Bundesbanker. The German central bank is staffed by loyal, long-serving officials. They've spent their entire careers in a structured environment where the rules of the game were clear and the way to advancement was marked out.

Now all the rules have changed, and the Bundesbank's staff are being forced to choose between an uncertain future at the European Monetary Institute (EMI) or possible oblivion in their old jobs.

So far, there hasn't been a stampede to join the EMI, despite the higher salaries paid just a mile away on the other side of Frankfurt's Grüneburgpark. One reason is that the Bundesbank is becoming reluctant to provide return tickets valid in 18 months' time, should the official not obtain a new contract from the management of the European Central Bank (ECB). The other reason, say cynics, is that working hours are far longer than those at the Bundesbank, where even senior managers go home at 3pm on Fridays.

That lack of enthusiasm is worrying for the Bundesbank. While Bundesbank president Hans Tietmeyer is almost certain to be one of the four - or six - members of the ECB's executive board, the only hope of perpetuating Bundesbank ideals is through the rank-and-file staff who join the EMI now, and graduate to the ECB in 1999.

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