June 20, 2014 / 11:23 AM / 3 years ago

ECB joins IMF to tell Europe now is the time for reforms

* Borrowing costs hover near record lows after ECB move

* ECB, IMF, European Commission tell Europe to reform now

* Reforms implementation first, deficit flexibility later

By Ingrid Melander and Annika Breidthardt

LUXEMBOURG, June 20 (Reuters) - Very low borrowing costs give Europe an excellent opportunity to carry out reforms urgently needed to bolster growth and public finances, ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure said on Friday.

With the worst of the financial crisis now over and fears of a break-up of the euro zone all but forgotten, governments in highly indebted countries from Italy to Ireland are finding it ever easier and cheaper to borrow.

Irish bond yields, for example, dipped to a record low last week on a Standard & Poor’s upgrade and the wider peripheral euro zone debt continued to benefit from fresh European Central Bank stimulus announced earlier this month.

“The window of opportunity is there. Market conditions are extraordinary, this cannot be taken for granted so action on structural reform is urgent,” Coeure told reporters in the margins of an EU finance ministers’ meeting on Friday.

The ECB cut interest rates to record lows on June 5th, launching a series of measures to pump money into the sluggish euro zone economy and pledging to do more if needed to fight off the risk of Japan-like deflation.

The ECB’s decision has driven short-term money market rates to historic lows, with the overnight bank-to-bank Eonia rate tumbling close to zero.

“Monetary conditions and financial conditions are very benign, very favourable. The ECB has indicated that rates will stay low for an extended period of time and this creates a window of opportunity to reform,” Coeure said.

His call added to pressure on EU member states to do more to tackle long-standing structural problems after the International Monetary Fund told the euro zone late on Thursday that: “With the benign market environment, now is the time to implement reforms to increase growth.”

In its annual review of the euro zone, the IMF said policy efforts should focus on supporting demand, balance sheet repair and completion of the banking union and structural reforms.

It called for reforms of the labour market, saying taxation should be adapted to lower hiring costs, encouraging capital market financing alternatives. (Additiional reporting by Martin Santa; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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