Opinion

Can Eurozone Reform Help Contain Trump?

The Trump administration knows that a key source of US economic leverage is the dollar’s role as the world’s dominant reserve currency. Countering America’s disproportionate power to destabilize the global economy thus requires reducing the share of international trade conducted in dollars.

By: and Date: October 17, 2018 Topic: Global economy and trade

This opinion piece has been published in 

BRUSSELS – US President Donald Trump is using economic warfare to pursue his foreign-policy objectives. In August, his administration announced that it would double tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey, in order to pressure the Turkish authorities to release an American pastor detained for two years on espionage charges. At the beginning of next month, the United States will also ratchet up unilateral sanctions against Iran.

The Trump administration knows that a key source of US economic leverage is the dollar’s role as the world’s dominant reserve currency. Countering America’s disproportionate power to destabilize the global economy thus requires reducing the share of international trade conducted in dollars. Can the euro serve as a credible alternative?

The euro is the world’s second-leading currency, but it still lags far behind the US dollar. Two-thirds of all loans issued by local banks in foreign currencies are denominated in dollars, compared to just 20% in euros. Similar proportions apply to global foreign-exchange reserves.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is eager to change this. Last month, he declared it “absurd” that “Europe pays for 80% of its energy import bill – worth €300 billion a year – in US dollars,” even though only about 2% of the EU’s energy imports come from the US. He then called for the euro to become “the instrument of a new, more sovereign Europe,” and promised to “present initiatives to strengthen the international role of the euro.”

Juncker is not alone among European leaders in recognizing how powerful a tool the single currency can be when it comes to projecting power. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has proposed that the European Union establish its own international payments system.

But these proposals, while ambitious, may overlook what is really needed to elevate the euro’s status. If the euro’s role in international trade increased, so would foreign companies’ holdings of euro-denominated assets and the total volume of euro-denominated loans. More global trade in euros could lead foreign banking systems to become heavily exposed to the currency.

That means that, in the event of a crisis, the European Central Bank would have to take action, much as the US Federal Reserve has done in the past. During the 2008 global financial crisis, the Fed served as de facto global lender of last resort, agreeing to unsecured swap lines not only with reserve-currency central banks like the ECB and the Swiss National Bank, but also with emerging economies like Mexico and Brazil. The goal was to stabilize the global economy, but the liquidity also helped to prevent domestic disturbances from foreign sales of dollar assets and to stop foreign banks from scrambling to buy dollars.

The ECB adopted a much more restrictive approach. In late 2008, it began to provide euros to the central banks of Hungary, Latvia, and Poland, but required them to put up euro-denominated securities as collateral. The ECB wanted to guard its balance sheet against unsecured exposure to Hungarian forint or Polish złoty. But these countries held too few eligible securities to obtain enough euros under the ECB’s initial terms. It took another year for the ECB, under pressure from Austria and other countries, to establish proper swap lines against foreign-currency collateral with the Hungarian and Polish central banks.

Even now, the ECB will provide euro liquidity only to countries considered systemically relevant for the eurozone. This risk-averse approach contrasts with that of the Fed and, more tellingly, with that of the People’s Bank of China, which in recent years has established an extensive network of swap lines to promote the renminbi’s use in trade – and thus its standing as an international currency.

If Juncker’s vision is to be realized, the ECB will have to abandon this parochial mindset and adopt a Fed-style role as international lender of last resort. Yet it remains unclear whether the ECB actually would be willing to leave part of its balance sheet exposed to the fate of non-eurozone countries.

The ECB has good reason to be cautious: it lacks a political counterpart akin to the Fed’s US Treasury Secretary. With no eurozone finance minister with whom to coordinate in times of crisis, a decision by the ECB to help third countries – even EU countries – could be met with strong resistance. The ECB’s reluctance to establish a swap line with Hungary may be a case in point: Hungary was already distancing itself from the EU.

Eventually, the ECB did resolve to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. But if European leaders want to advance Juncker’s vision of strengthening EU sovereignty by boosting the euro’s international role, they cannot rely on the ECB to repeat that approach, without proper institutional support.

Instead, eurozone leaders should complete the reforms of the currency union’s architecture and provide a political counterpart to the ECB that would support centralized monetary policy. This is the best initial response to Trump’s economic attacks. Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse – yet again.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Feb
2
14:00

Towards an inventory of corporate subsidies by China, the EU and the USA

In this event panelists will discuss the latest report of the 28th Global Trade Alert Report, 'Subsidies and market access: Towards an inventory of corporate subsidies by China, the European Union and the United States'.

Speakers: Simon J. Evenett, Denis Redonnet, André Sapir and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: Global economy and trade Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

European governance

The euro comes of age

A well-functioning euro reflects a degree of unity that allows the EU to credibly claim a position at the global table and therefore help shape the policies that will deal with global problems. That is a decisive success.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: January 13, 2022
Read article More on this topic
 

Opinion

How an open climate club can generate carbon dividends for the poor

The German-led G7 can accelerate decarbonisation while tackling climate justice.

By: Andreas Goldthau and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Green economy Date: January 11, 2022
Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

European governance

The Euro at 20

The euro’s advocates hoped that the single currency would deliver economic and financial integration, policy convergence, political amalgamation, and global influence. While these predictions were often wide of the mark, the euro has arguably proven to be a wise investment.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: January 3, 2022
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author
 

Working Paper

Timely measurement of real effective exchange rates

This paper contributes to the measurement of monthly consumer price index-based real effective exchange rates with two main novelties.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: Global economy and trade Date: December 23, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

European governance

Policy coordination failures in the euro area: not just an outcome, but by design

Discussions on the fiscal framework should aim to correct its procyclical nature with a view to promoting more cooperative outcomes.

By: Maria Demertzis and Nicola Viegi Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: December 20, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Inflation ideology: camp permanent or camp temporary?

Policy focus should be on tackling uncertainties by being able to tackle as many scenarios as possible.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: December 9, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

L’Union européenne et les États-Unis, un an après

Après une année troublée par Kaboul et AUKUS, qu'avons-nous retenu de l'an I de la présidence Biden ? Maria Demertzis revient sur les évènements marquants de l'année 2021 pour la relation entre les États-Unis et l'Union européenne.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: Global economy and trade Date: December 8, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Fiscal arithmetic and risk of sovereign insolvency

The record-high debt levels in advanced economies increase the risk of sovereign insolvency. Governments should start fiscal consolidation soon in an environment of low nominal and real interest rates and post-COVID growth.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global economy and trade, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 18, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

What to make of the EU-US deal on steel and aluminium?

While deeply disappointing that the surprise deal maintains aluminium and steel tariffs against the EU beyond a modest quota, it alleviates a major irritant in transatlantic relations and contains interesting and innovative features relating to climate policy and to dispute settlement under WTO rules.

By: Uri Dadush Topic: Global economy and trade Date: November 4, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

European monetary policy: lessons from the past two decades

This event will feature the presentation of “Monetary Policy in Times of Crisis – A Tale of Two Decades of the European Central Bank."

Speakers: Petra Geraats, Wolfgang Lemke, Francesco Papadia and Massimo Rostagno Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 4, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The state of trade: the EU's trade policy

A conversation with Member of the European Parliament Bernd Lange on the European Union’s trade policy.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global economy and trade Date: November 3, 2021
Load more posts