'Make the Euro the Green Currency of the 21st Century! ' - Open Letter to Christine Lagarde, President, ECB
Madam President, establish the euro as the world’s reference currency in the fight against climate change!
There are dates that resonate in the minds of European citizens: the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community on April 18, 1957; the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957; the first extension of Europe on January 1, 1973 (the latest being in 2013); the single currency on January 1, 1999; the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007; the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 – the list goes on. In each case, the challenges were many, tensions sometimes paralysed us, and popular discontent was palpable.
But in spite of all the lamentations and the other long litany of grievances that are burgeoning at the time of Brexit, Euroscepticism, and a blunted nationalism that wants to be sharper than patriotism, let's keep a cool head and recognise the facts. So far, the European Union (EU) has fulfilled its mission: ensuring peace on its territory, the history of which has long been reduced to a thread of blood and tears.
To maintain this fragile harmony in the current European and international context, we must reform. That goes without saying. However, it is also imperative to innovate. The EU is not just plagued by the evils inherent at the construction process Europe is looking for a new narrative that could bring nations and peoples together.
Most EU citizens want to see the EU becoming a fully geopolitical actor capable of tracing its path without external influence, especially the one from the other side of the Atlantic which is becoming more and more uncomfortable. Let's open Pandora's box by saying that Europe is looking for greatness and power in a world where it sometimes feels insignificant and vulnerable.
The founding fathers, in a burst of idealism and pragmatism, proposed a dialectic that has proved its worth: to pool the production of coal, the most important source of energy at the time, and consequently use energy policy as a link between peoples, but also as a means of control or even channeling of power. In other words, it was necessary to restore pride without letting the old demons resurface. It is by no means necessary to recall the great slippages of the old continent every time the word "power" is used with too much presumption.
Since November 1, 2019, you have taken over the torch of Robert Schuman. Energy policy can once again enhance the image of Europe. The situation is in your favor, do not wait any longer to bring nations together and offer the greatness they need in a context that carries the democratic values that we support.
The world is becoming multipolar and so is the financial sector. The US is no longer an undisputed hegemon in the political arena. The dependency of the global energy markets on the all-conquering greenback is beginning to worry people everywhere. The use of secondary sanctions (also known as extra-territorial sanctions) has prompted various countries to find alternatives.
Not surprisingly, this group includes (i) states under sanctions and dependent on the sale of hydrocarbons like Russia, (ii) states that have poor relations with Washington and fear to attract US wrath, (iii) ) and finally economic powers anxious to preserve a certain margin of manoeuvre, like the People's Republic of China. It is clear that Russia has been as innovative as reckless in this specific case.
In the aftermath of March 18, 2014, when the Kremlin announced the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation, Washington has imposed its greatest weapon: secondary sanctions. These are aimed at partially disconnecting Moscow from the financial markets by prohibiting transactions in US dollars, but also those with any person and/or entity affiliated to the US financial system (which represents a large part of the world’s population). Simply put, the world suddenly faced a dilemma: "If you do business with our opponents, forget the American market. Furthermore, you expose yourself to the risk of paying a fine if you violate US law."
After a phase of pseudo-panic, pseudo-chaos amplified by the economic crisis, Russia embarked on a frantic struggle to defend its economic and political interests. Moscow quickly discovered that it had many assets in its game, including other currencies. For several years, the Russian financial sector has wondered if the euro or the renminbi will win the showdown versus the US dollar. Both currencies have structural problems that should not be ignored, but they have the common point of providing the much-needed independence that Russia aspires to. Madam President, take advantage of this openness to propel the euro as a global reference!
On May 8, 2018, the Trump administration announced that it was withdrawing from the landmark Vienna Nuclear Agreement. It was a humiliating snub for the EU, but it will have confirmed the Russian position. The salvation of the economy of the Federation will partially depend on the de-dollarisation of the energy sector, and strategic sectors of the Russian economy. Since then, the process has not stopped. On October 23, 2019, the Russian oil and gas company Rosneft announced that its export contracts will now be in euros. The next day, the Russian company Novatek, the main producer of liquefied natural gas, said it uses the euro in most of its contracts showing a new trend where the euro is becoming a valuable underlying currency for some international contracts. The European currency has never been so interesting as now. It may seem paradoxical since we are also sanctioning Russia. This must be the famous "irony of fate" (Ирония судьбы / Ironiya Sud'by), to use the title of the famous Soviet film. We owe a debt of gratitude to the US. Maybe we should say "Thank you Mister President".
Some countries that are not members of the eurozone, believe in our currency. It is time for the 19 members that are in it, to come out of their torpor and become more enterprising. If Europe wants to be taken seriously, it has to take itself seriously! We must remember that for decades, the contracts for purchase, transport, but also insurance (hedge) of many commodities were signed mostly in US dollars. Europe has let itself be caught up in a system that is far too comfortable and this has prevented it from asking itself the real questions. The ultimate limit was the use of the dollar for gas transit contracts between Russia and Europe adding de facto currency risk to a complicated geopolitical situation. Such a situation has given Washington political and economic power over other nations as well as the international economy. The greatest strength of the US is certainly its ability to include or exclude economic actors from its financial system. The use of secondary sanctions has become the most formidable weapon in the country. After having signed in the past contracts in dollars for gas to Europe, Russia could in the future be willing to sign contracts in euros for Asia to avoid any US risks.
If the European energy sector has benefited from dollarisation for years, it is now paying the price, both financially and diplomatically speaking. European companies have been forced to leave Iran to comply with the wishes of Washington, losing many long-term investments. The failure to set up a "special purpose vehicle" to keep Tehran in the agreement has not borne fruit and has shown the dissonance between European aspirations and the limited means at its disposal.
Unfortunately, the historic agreement of 2015 is bound to die in the bud. Moreover, this unilateral US decision is yet another blow to the European desire to unite nations around the fight against climate change. The development of gas fields and the modernisation of the Iranian energy sector where the use of European technologies would have considerably reduced the country's greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it would have improved the quality of life of millions of Iranians regularly exposed to massive pollution in their large cities. For now, they will have to wait and record the number of premature deaths.
The use of a currency is ultimately a decision that market players should take. The aim is not to interfere in commercial freedom or to limit choices, but rather to broaden the offer of these same actors by ensuring that the European currency becomes truly the reference currency both strong and reliable. Trading commodities in Euro will strengthen the sovereignty of the Union. What the founding fathers could not dream of doing in 1957, you can now put it into action!
With the Brexit, the eurozone and the EU-27 should be able to ensure and promote the euro-isation of the energy sector. First, the main trading platforms for energy commodities are not based on the territory of the EU-27.
If Brussels insisted that intergovernmental agreements include a standard clause on the use of the euro as the default currency for energy transactions, the actors should adapt and one or more new entities in the EU-27 could even emerge. Continental European electricity trading platforms could very well play this role. Second, since the missing link in the energy transition is storage, the EU should definitely promote financial energy storage contracts in euros. Third, euro traders such as ENI and Repsol may be interested in euro-based contracts to reduce their foreign exchange risk. Fourth, companies like Total and Equinor could be tempted to follow this path in order to weigh the risk of sanctions and push those companies to report in euros like ENI and Repsol. However, one question remains: could BP and Shell also see an advantage at their door? Will they be tempted by a potential rebalancing or will they stick to the current dollar system? The answer remains uncertain, but a rise of the euro could change the situation. Would they prefer to stick with dollar reporting like the US oil companies or euros like the European energy companies?
Twenty years after the introduction of the euro, we are facing a major challenge. Like any challenge, it offers a lot of fears and hopes. The eurozone remains prone to crises. Deep and difficult reforms are needed. However, a new world is to be invented. This will be politically complex since it implies independence from the US on the one hand and the need to solve the structural problems of the European currency on the other. Some will say that the game is not worth the effort. This answer is too hasty. Ensuring the euro's position in the energy sector could have a ripple effect in the defense and aviation sectors - other strategic sectors exposed to Washington's headwinds. By fighting every day to make the euro the reference currency, you will contribute not only to the greatness of Europe but also to make Europeans proud of their collective success.
In a letter to Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, President-elect of the European Commission, we suggested rethinking the European energy strategy based on two pillars: security and justice. If security is inseparable from sustainability, it must also include different parameters including the currency we use to ensure not only our energy supplies, but also to promote the energy transition beyond our borders. Our independence from the dollar will protect our businesses and give us more leeway.
At a time of accelerated energy transition, the Union must not only develop innovative technologies, but also promote the Euro as a reference currency in future energy storage contracts. You will thus prove our common will to work towards the establishment of a sustainable future. Europe could then give new impetus into galvanizing nations around the unifying plan to fight global warming.
Madam Lagarde, put aside the Greek debt crisis as well as the vehemence of the minority extremes who yearn for a return to national currencies. Today, give yourself a moment of optimism and hope. The euro can find its place in this new world order where China, Russia, India, but also Iran, seek to ensure the security of the purchase and sale of their commodities. The euro should not become a poor stopgap, but a key currency in the energy sector. Our currency must make it possible to bring the energy transition around the world, thanks to the current Washington policy!
Madam President, be bold in making decisions now that will become game changers. Make the Euro the ultimate currency of an international Green Deal, let emerge a commodities trading platform in the Eurozone territory, encourage the euro-isation of energy contracts, and let a legal framework emerge that protects our companies outside of our borders. By working together with European Heads of State and Governments, you will help make Europe a full and complete geopolitical player.
By putting your signature on each of the euro banknotes, remember that they represent the most concrete proof of our Union for our citizens. However, they must also become the world's reference currency. It is up to you now to become the face of a democratic, independent Europe, in accordance with the aspirations of its citizens. We wish you, Madam President, every success.
Aurélie Bros, Senior Fellow & Lecturer on Government at Harvard University
Director of the Energy Project
Thierry Bros, Associate, Energy Project
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies
This letter was first published in French by Le Monde de l’énergie on November 21, 2019
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