* Lithuania aims to become 19th euro zone member in 2015
* ECB governing council votes would then start to rotate
* Smaller economies to vote less frequent than larger ones
* ECB executive board exempt from monthly vote rotation
* German politicians worry about reduced Buba influence
By Eva Taylor
FRANKFURT, Feb 4 Lithuania's adoption of the
euro next year will change the voting pattern at the European
Central Bank, curbing smaller members' perceived influence and
giving more weight to the centre.
Taking turns to vote will affect all euro zone members, but
the damage will be more keenly felt in Germany whose once-mighty
Bundesbank served as a blueprint for the ECB. It has since seen
its influence weaken and support for its stern views on monetary
policy diminish during the euro zone debt crisis.
Once national central bank governors, who gather twice a
month at the ECB to discuss monetary policy, exceed 18 - their
current number - they will be divided into groups of smaller and
larger economies to ensure efficient decision making.
The five largest economies with the biggest financial
sectors will share four votes. These are Germany, France, Italy,
Spain and the Netherlands based on current rankings.
The remaining 14 countries will get 11 votes, but they will
get to vote less frequently the more members join the governing
The system was set by the ECB and European Union leaders as
far back as 2003. Only from next year though the numbers could
get high enough to trigger the change.
The six members of the ECB's executive board, which
implements monetary policy and runs the everyday business, are
exempt from the monthly vote rotation and have permanent votes.
These seats have traditionally been occupied by the euro
zone heavyweights Germany, France, Italy and until 2012 Spain.
At the moment Portugal, Luxembourg and Belgium are also seated
at the top table, but their presence is not set in stone.
MINNOWS SLIPPING THROUGH THE NET
Lithuania would fall into the group of the euro zone minnows
with a population of around 3 million and a gross domestic
product of about 33 billion euros, just over 1 percent of
It is aiming to become the euro zone's 19th member next
year, following its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Latvia, which
joined in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
If all goes according to plan and Lithuania gets the green
light this summer, Central Bank Governor Vitas Vasiliauskas will
start travelling to Frankfurt on a regular basis from next year
to help set the bloc's monetary policy.
It is difficult to say in what state the euro zone economy
will be by then and it is unclear what the reduced influence of
the smaller countries will mean for the ECB's monetary policy
stance, but some of the side-effects are already clear.
"You won't be able to avoid a situation where the market
gets very focused on the fact that one particular governor is
not going to be voting at a particular juncture," said Nick
Matthews, senior European economist at Nomura.
This could distract from the ECB's overall policy message.
Publishing the policy meeting's minutes - as it is being
discussed at the moment - could be a way to showcase the nature
of the debate and to give a voice to those who cannot vote. The
council primarily tries to reach an agreement by consensus.
Deutsche Bank senior European economist Gilles Moec said the
new pattern may also lead to more public statements from
national central banks.
"If you are not voting, even if your vote wouldn't have
changed anything, you probably want to reassert your influence
by being bolder in your external communications," Moec said.
That would add to the cacophony of views, which sometimes
In Germany, the vote change will raise renewed criticism
even though the Bundesbank will rank among the top-five and will
therefore only have to sit out once every five months.
Conservative politicians have long called for a change of
the "one member, one vote" principle to reflect that their
country contributes just over a quarter of the ECB's capital.
In effect, Germany's Bundesbank has and will continue to
have exactly the same vote as Malta or Cyprus, even though the
latter two make up a fraction of the euro zone economy.
Norbert Barthle, a budget lawmaker in Chancellor Angela
Merkel's Christian Democrats, is among those calling for a
change of the rules, but such a step would require a change of
European Union treaty for which a unanimous vote is needed.
"It is unimaginable that Germany as the ECB's largest
shareholder should temporarily not have a voting right," Barthle
The Bundesbank itself takes a pragmatic view, stressing that
all countries will continue to take part in the discussion and
still have the right to speak. And after all, the governors are
not representing their country's interests on the council.
Apart from that, the Bundesbank just installed its No. 2 on
the ECB executive board. Sabine Lautenschlaeger started her
eight-year term on Jan. 27, having served as the Bundesbank's
vice president since June 2011.