* First ECB minutes to be published at 1230 GMT
* Will be 10-15 pages long, market focus to be on QE discussion
* Brings ECB in line with other big central banks
By Marc Jones
FRANKFURT, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank will publish its first minutes of one of its meetings on Thursday, providing insight into just how much support or resistance there was to last month’s landmark decision to start buying government bonds.
The minutes, or ‘accounts’ as they will be known, will be published at 1230 GMT (1330 CET). They are expected to provide lengthy but carefully worded detail, omitting names to avoid exposing the bank’s national governors to scrutiny.
Euro zone central bank insiders say this week’s first installment, which the ECB has said will “offer a fair and balanced reflection of policy deliberations,” will be 10-15 pages long.
They will start with summaries of presentations by Executive Board members Peter Praet and Benoit Coeure on the euro zone’s economy and financial markets, then go on to the discussions on the bank’s 1 trillion-euro quantitative easing (QE) programme. Only Praet and Coeure’s names will be included.
“The interesting thing is that this decision was so strongly contested, so the minutes will give us a better sense of how broad the consensus was behind it,” said Dirk Schumacher, euro zone economist at Goldman Sachs.
“That will be important for the effectiveness of it. The market will be thinking about whether it could be altered or extended in the future, so it will be looking at where there was resistance and where there was support.”
ECB head Mario Draghi has also said there will be a system of “qualifiers” to show whether decisions were agreed unanimously by the bank’s 25 members, by a large majority, a majority or by the minimum of consensus.
In most cases, Draghi and ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio will probably have made that clear at their post-meeting news conference.
Markets and ECB watchers are more likely to focus on the debate around the more sensitive decisions. This time, they will be looking at how much resistance there was to the QE plan, aside from Germany’s Bundesbank. Whether there was any talk about Greece’s debt problems and the funding provided to its banks is also likely to come under scrutiny.
Publishing minutes will bring the ECB more into line with the Federal Reserve and other major central banks like the Bank of Japan and Bank of England, although not entirely.
The information, including economic and market summaries, is similar to its peers. The pressure to avoid naming names, however, and the fact a news conference will already have been held — the ECB gives one after every meeting, the Fed only half the time — could dull the market reaction.
Others continue to revise their approaches. Later this year, the Bank of England plans to publish a first draft of its minutes alongside its rate decisions.
Ensuring anonymity is particularly sensitive for the ECB. The bank’s 25 decision makers include 19 national central bank governors. The worry is that they may come under fire for approving measures contrary to their own country’s interests.
The minutes may also offer a glimpse of the often tense debates at the heart of monetary policy in Europe. Unlike the United States, the euro bloc is made up of 19 often very different countries, from Germany to Cyprus. Those divisions often play out at meetings of their central bank chiefs.
The minutes will provide greater insight, though, into the breadth of the debate and range of options discussed at the ECB’s meetings.
Draghi tends to present the consensus view at the post-meeting news conferences, so getting a fuller picture on the range of options being considered could provide markets with useful pointers.
(For ECB press release on new minutes click here)
Additional reporting by David Milliken in London; Editing by Larry King