The Politicization of the European Central Bank: A Language-Based Analysis

Thursday, July 13, 2017
JWS - Room J7 (J361) (University of Glasgow)
Pier Domenico Tortola , University of Milan
Pamela Pansardi , University of Milan
The politicization of the ECB is a topical issue both analytically—as an aspect of the EU’ s governance transformations—and normatively, for it raises questions about the Bank’s legitimacy and accountability. The academic debate on ECB politicization has shown that the latter is a complex phenomenon, with many facets and measurable different ways. In this paper we add to this debate by examining a new dimension of ECB politicization, namely the linguistic one. Assessing the political nature of the ECB by looking at what the Bank says—rather than what it does—has several advantages. First, it introduces a more empirically tractable side of politicization, which can help mitigate this concept’s “essentially contested” nature. Second, and more substantively, it informs us on an important and autonomous component of politicization, on which only anecdotal evidence exists so far. Finally, it enables the exploration of interactions between the communicative and more factual sides of ECB politicization. Building on a conceptual dichotomy between an “econocratic” (apolitical) and “state-like” (political) ECB, the paper measures the salience and evolution of these two ECB images through a dictionary-based and software-assisted content analysis of the entire corpus of ECB presidential speeches since the Bank’s inception. More precisely, we operationalize politicization in terms of style, by detecting charismatic discourse, and content, by gauging the ECB’s forays outside of its statutory remit. Generally speaking, we find that while the ECB’s communication has become stylistically more political in recent years, the opposite has happened content-wise.