Europe faces elections in France, the Netherlands, Germany and possibly Italy this year. In each case, right-wing or radical parties opposed to the European Union and the euro itself will have a chance to test their support with voters. Britain will also be giving notice that it is leaving the EU, starting talks on the U.K.'s future trade relationship with the EU. The election of Donald Trump in the United States has raised questions about U.S. trade policy with China and other countries, a key factor in the global economy.
The 19 countries that use the euro are enjoying a moderate economic recovery. The economy grew 0.4 percent in the last three months of 2016, and unemployment has gradually fallen to 9.7 percent. Uncertainty ahead of elections could make businesses leery of new investment until the situation becomes clearer.
ECB officials viewed a recent spike in inflation as "transient" and agreed they shouldn't overreact to inflation jumping to an annual 1.8 percent in January. On paper, that meets the bank's goal of just under 2 percent — its basic benchmark to measure whether it is carrying out its mission of price stability, and the figure considered consistent with a healthy economy.
But the increase was mainly fed by higher oil prices, not by fundamental pressures such as wage increases for workers — which remain subdued.
The officials decided they would "look through the volatility in short-term data if judged transient."
The board decided to stress the bank would keep pushing newly created money in to the economy through bond purchases at least until the end of this year — 80 billion euros ($84 billion) per month through March and 60 billion euros per month after that.