FRANKFURT, Germany — The European Central Bank says that top official Juergen Stark is resigning well before the end of his term, removing a key voice for tougher rate policy and raising questions about the bank's course during Europe's debt crisis.
The ECB said Friday that, Stark, 63, is leaving "for personal reasons" almost three years before the end of his eight-year term.
European stock markets and the euro fell sharply amid uncertainty over leadership at the eurozone's top monetary authority.
Stark is a former official with Germany's Bundesbank and is regarded in central bank jargon as a "hawk" — an advocate of higher interest rates to fight inflation and less expansionary monetary policy.
His departure is the second unexpected personnel change at the ECB this year, after governing council member and Bundesbank head Axel Weber, regarded as front runner to succeed bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, dropped out of the running and did not seek another term.
Instead, Bank of Italy head Mario Draghi was chosen by eurozone leaders to replace Trichet Nov. 1.
It's not clear what Stark's departure would mean for the bank's course until his replacement is clear. As the biggest country in the eurozone, Germany would be in a strong position to demand a German replace him so as to keep at least one seat on the influential body.
Stark sits on the six-member executive board of the ECB, the eurozone's top monetary authority. Responsible for economics and statistics, he is often described as the bank's chief economist.
The ECB said Stark would remain in his job until a successor is appointed by the end of the year.