ECB rates to stay unchanged for next few quarters -Villeroy

Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau attends a meeting in Paris

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Central Bank's interest rates have reached a plateau where they will likely remain for the next few quarters, ECB policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Monday, dismissing rate cut talk as premature.

The ECB broke a streak of 10 consecutive hikes last month by holding rates steady, prompting investors to turn their attention to when rate cuts could come.

"There aren't just peaks and descents: there are also plateaus, where you can experience the effects of altitude and appreciate the view," said Villeroy, who is the governor of the French central bank.

"That's what we'll probably be doing for at least the next several meetings and the next few quarters," he told the Society of Professional Economists in London.

The conflict in Gaza and Israel as well as oil market swings were unlikely to derail the fall in inflation, though occasional ups and down could be expected in the next few months, he said.

The ECB aims to steer euro zone inflation towards its 2% target by 2025, though Villeroy insisted the number was an average and he was not fixated on hitting 2.0% precisely.

Euro zone inflation has fallen quickly in recent months as the economy has slowed, though Villeroy said a recession could be avoided and a "soft landing" seemed more likely.

While interest rates were likely to remain at current levels for the immediate future, he said it might be necessary to end bond purchases in the 1.7 trillion euro ($1.85 trillion) Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme earlier than the current plan for the end of 2024.

He added that in future the ECB might need to bring back some form of forward guidance about its interest rate plans, so long as that did not limit its room for manoeuvre too much.

"Central banks should be predictable, but not pre-committed," he said.

($1 = 0.9168 euros)

(Reporting by David Milliken, writing by Leigh Thomas, editing by Christina Fincher)