Is the COVID-19 crisis an opportunity to boost the euro as a global currency?
The euro never challenged the US dollar, and its international status declined with the euro crisis. Faced with a US administration willing to use its hegemonic currency to extend its domestic policies beyond its borders, Europe is reflecting on how to promote it currency on the global stage to ensure its autonomy. But promoting a more prominent role for the euro is difficult and involves far-reaching changes to the fabric of the monetary union.
This note was prepared at the request and with the financial support of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, as a background paper for discussion at the informal ECOFIN in Zagreb, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak and implementation of containment measures.
• The euro became an international currency when it was created two decades ago. However, the euro’s internationalisation peaked as early as 2005 and it was never comparable to the US dollar. Its international status declined with the euro crisis. Faced with a US administration willing to use its hegemonic currency to extend its domestic policies beyond its borders, Europe is reflecting on how to promote actively the internationalisation of the euro, to help ensure its autonomy. But promoting a more prominent role for the euro is difficult and would involve far-reaching changes to the fabric of the monetary union.
• Historically, countries issuing dominant currencies have been characterised by: a large and growing economy, free movement of capital, a willingness to play an international role, stability, an ability to provide a large and elastic supply of safe assets, developed financial markets, and significant geopolitical and/or military power. The monetary union does not meet all these criteria.
• The only way for the euro to play a major international role is to improve the institutional setup of the monetary union. First, the supply of euro-denominated safe assets from the monetary union should be increased. To avoid a COVID-19 depression, euro-area countries have increased massively the supply of their debt securities in the last two months. With its new purchase programme, the European Central Bank has ensured that euro-area sovereign bonds retain their safe asset status. Decisions by the Eurogroup also increase the supply of common European safe assets. The European Commission’s proposal to issue up to €750 billion in EU debt to finance its recovery plan is a step in the right direction.
• In federations, joint issuance typically goes hand-in-hand with federal and central control of spending and a strong grip on revenues. To be politically sustainable, similar central control would be needed in the EU. The treaty-based EU framework is the closest to fulfilling these criteria with political accountability through the European Parliament, political control via the Commission, and a court of auditors and an anti-fraud office, but ultimately the treaty base is insufficient for a true quantum leap.
• It is essential to ensure a strong recovery for all countries and thus make the euro area an attractive destination for investment. A strong recovery will also be fundamental to preserve or even improve the supply of safe assets, as growth is crucial for debt sustainability.
Claeys, G. and G.B. Wolff (2020) ‘Is the COVID-19 crisis an opportunity to boost the euro as a global currency?’ Policy Contribution 11/2020, Bruegel