In her debut press conference as european central bank president last december, christine lagarde promised to bring her own style to the job and make decision-making among her squabbling team of policymakers as consensual as possible.
It is a pledge she has delivered onbut growing evidence that the consensus is fraying suggests that her diplomatic skills will be needed in the coming months, as the ecb seeks to steer the eurozone from a historic recession to recovery.
Nearly a year into the role, ms lagarde has established a much more collegial leadership approach than her predecessor mario draghi. one member of the ecbs governing council said mr draghi led from the front, while ms lagarde prefers to lead from the back.
The change seems as much a reaction to the furious outbursts from other council members that followed mr draghis final easing measures last year as a reflection of ms lagardes ability to persuade meeting rooms often full of men to agree on a decision.
Ms lagarde told the european parliament last week that she was not overly concerned by differing opinions among council members.
I dont encourage massive dissent but i think that dissent and discussion are healthy among members of the executive board, she said. but i think what is important is that once a decision has been made and once a majority has been established then it is a question of staying the course and of being together at that time.
Lena komileva, chief economist at g+ economics, said: this is an ecb president with a very cohesive, collegial leadership style who wants the others to come to a common ground. she doesnt want to prejudge their decisions.
Ms lagardes attachment to unity can make her communication harder to read. mr draghi often signalled his intentions early and counted on his ability to steamroll them through the council despite opposition from a few members.
In contrast, ms lagardes instinct is to stick to the middle ground. this can unsettle investors, as happened when she declared just as the coronavirus crisis was starting in march that the ecb was not there to close the spread between italian and german bond yields fuelling a sell-off in the debt markets of peripheral countries.
She also caused a stir among investors last month by downplaying concerns about the euros appreciation and the risk of deflation.
In both cases, ecb chief economist philip lane subsequently published a detailed blog post widely interpreted by economists and investors as an attempt to finesse ms lagardes comments. some of her critics seized on it as evidence of her lack of monetary policy experience or economics training.
But mr draghi has privately told friends that the partnership between ms lagarde and mr lane is working just as planned: the president is doing what she does best in building a consensus and the chief economist is supporting her with his technical expertise.
In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, when government lockdowns froze much of the economy and sent it crashing to a record postwar recession, ms lagarde touted the ecb councils unanimity over its 750bn emergency bond-buying plan.
When it subsequently expanded the emergency plan to 1.35tn a few months later, there were the first initial mutterings of dissent in the governing council about the size of the increase. asthe worst of the economic fallout from the pandemic ebbs,and the ecb progresses with its strategicreview,it looks increasingly likely thatms lagardesconsensus-building skills will be more severely tested.
In recent days senior ecb policymakers have engaged in verbal jousting on whether weakness in the economic recovery merits further monetary easing by the central bank, or whether it should rely on more fiscal stimulus from governments.
Ecb executive board member fabio panettafrom the dovish camp in favour of more easingwarned that when the eurozone was confronting a sizeable downward skew the risks of a policy overreaction are much smaller than the risks of policy being too slow or too shy.
But fellow board member yves mersch followed this by saying that nothing is pointing to a further deterioration, at least not on the front of prices and production. he added dismissively: of course the markets like [it] if we buy up everything that they have.
Some analysts believe the harmonyms lagarde has attempted to build is disintegrating. carsten brzeski, economist at ing, said: with this tit-for-tat war i first of all wonder what happened to christine lagardes mission to strengthen the ecbs team spirit and keep differing views behind closed doors.
As northern countries such as germany recover faster than southern states such as spain, the tensions could grow between the ecbs 25 council members, made up of 19 national central bank governors and six executive directors.
Jens weidmann, president of germanys bundesbank and one of the ecbs most hawkish council members, recently warned governments that rates would not stay low forever and said monetary policy would have to normalise once the crisis ended.
However, it is hard for hawkish opponents of further easing to mount serious opposition, given that the eurozone slid deeper into deflation in september. ms lagarde warned last week that it was likely to stay there for some months to come.
For now there is really no point objecting much if inflation is negative, said a second council member. when that changes and inflation starts to rise again it will be the real test for christines ability to build a consensus.