The move gave an immediate boost to stock markets, which will be looking for any signal at Draghi's first post-policy meeting news conference on whether the ECB is ready to boost its bond purchases to calm tensions in the euro area.
The Italian has walked into a maelstrom in his first week at the ECB's helm, with euro zone leaders contemplating a future without Greece and economic policy paralysis in his home country threatening to push Rome into the eye of the storm.
The decision to cut rates was unexpected and came despite inflation in the 17-country euro zone staying at 3.0 per cent for a second month running in October, well above the ECB's target of just below two per cent.
"What a starter. It is obvious that the ECB has caught the crisis virus and is trying everything it can to prevent a full-fledged recession," ING economist Carsten Brzeski said.
"Now, the big question for the press conference is whether the ECB is also willing to do everything to prevent a further escalation of the sovereign debt crisis, becoming the unconditional lender of last resort of the euro zone."
The euro fell after the rate decision and stock markets caught a tailwind, with an index of European top shares up 2.3 pe cent on the day. German two-year bond yields fell and December Euribor future jumped 13 basis points.
European leaders said earlier they were prepared for Greece to leave the euro zone to preserve their 12-year-old single currency if Athens does not decide quickly to implement a bailout programme, putting the likes of Italy and Spain, and even France, firmly in the markets' sights.