Policy brief

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

Publishing date
05 June 2020

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.

Recommended citation

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

About the authors

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff is a Senior fellow at Bruegel. He is also a Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. From 2022-2024, he was the Director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and from 2013-22 the director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy, climate policy, geoeconomics, macroeconomics and foreign affairs. His work was published in academic journals such as Nature, Science, Research Policy, Energy Policy, Climate Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Banking and Finance. His co-authored book “The macroeconomics of decarbonization” is published in Cambridge University Press.

    An experienced public adviser, he has been testifying twice a year since 2013 to the informal European finance ministers’ and central bank governors’ ECOFIN Council meeting on a large variety of topics. He also regularly testifies to the European Parliament, the Bundestag and speaks to corporate boards. In 2020, Business Insider ranked him one of the 28 most influential “power players” in Europe. From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister’s Conseil d’Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed member and co-director to the G20 High level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response under the co-chairs Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Lawrence H. Summers and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. From 2013-22, he was an advisor to the Mastercard Centre for Inclusive Growth. He is a member of the Bulgarian Council of Economic Analysis, the European Council on Foreign Affairs and  advisory board of Elcano.

    Guntram joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he worked in the research department at the Bundesbank, which he joined after completing his PhD in economics at the University of Bonn. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund. He is fluent in German, English, and French. His work is regularly published and cited in leading media. 

  • Grégory Claeys

    Grégory Claeys, a French and Spanish citizen, joined Bruegel as a research fellow in February 2014, before being appointed senior fellow in April 2020.

    Grégory Claeys is currently on leave for public service, serving as Director of the Economics Department of France Stratégie, the think tank and policy planning institution of the French government, since November 2023.

    Grégory’s research interests include international macroeconomics and finance, central banking and European governance. From 2006 to 2009 Grégory worked as a macroeconomist in the Economic Research Department of the French bank Crédit Agricole. Prior to joining Bruegel he also conducted research in several capacities, including as a visiting researcher in the Financial Research Department of the Central Bank of Chile in Santiago, and in the Economic Department of the French Embassy in Chicago. Grégory is also an Associate Professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris where he is teaching macroeconomics in the Master of Finance. He previously taught undergraduate macroeconomics at Sciences Po in Paris.

    He holds a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute (Florence), an MSc in economics from Paris X University and an MSc in management from HEC (Paris).

    Grégory is fluent in English, French and Spanish.


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