In what can only been seen as a vote of “no confidence” in the US dollar as global reserve currency, which effectively gives the US a monopoly over global trade settlements infrastructure, Germans foreign minister Heiko Maas yesterday called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US that would allow Brussels to be independent in its financial operations from Washington and as a means of rescuing the nuclear deal between Iran and the west.
Maas may have stopped short of openly supporting the Russia / China bid to replace the US dollar, but and independent European settlements system would have to exclude the dollar in trades between European nations and the BRICS bloc.
The German daily Handelsblatt reported that Maas said “Europe should not allow the US to act over our heads and at our expense. For that reason it’s essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels that are independent of the US, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent Swift system,” he wrote, cited by the FT.
Maas who has made clear his opposition to the US use of sanctions to maintain its stranglehold on world trade, said it was vital for Europe to stick with the Iran deal. “Every day the agreement continues to exist is better than the highly explosive crisis that otherwise threatens the Middle East,” he said. The unspoken subtext was clear: Europe is no longer willing to be a vassal state to US monopoly over global payments, and will now aggressively develop its own payments network that is not subservient to Washington’s every whim.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas (Picture: Zero Hedge )
Belgium basedSwift, global payment network owned by a consortium of banks, enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions. Swift is supposedly politically neutral and independent but it has been used to block transactions and enforce US sanctions against various countries, most notably Iran.
In 2012, the Danish newspaper Berlingske wrote that US authorities seized money being transferred from a Danish businessman to a German bank via the system for a batch of US-sanctioned Cuban cigars. The transaction was made in US dollars, which allowed Washington to block it although the USA has no legal or moral right to stop sovereign nations trading with any country they want to.
Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute, a Berlin-based think-tank supported Maas’s, saying his intervention was the “strongest call yet for EU financial and monetary autonomy vis-à-vis US.”
The German foreign minister’s words emphasise the dilemma facing European politicians as they struggle to maintain trade relations with Iran while coping with the fallout of US sanctions imposed by the US against companies doing business with Tehran.
As the FT adds, the EU is determined protect European businesses from retaliation by Washington for trading with Iran, but has failed to convince EU companies more concerned about maintaining their access to the lucrative US market than in the more modest opportunities presented by Iran.
Last month Washington rebuffed a high-level European plea to exempt crucial industries from sanctions. Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, and Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, formally rejected an appeal for carve-outs in finance, energy and healthcare made by ministers from Germany, France, the UK and the EU.
Swift will also be affected. Unless it wins an exemption from sanctions, which is unlikely, it will be required by the US to cut off certain Iranian banks from its network by early November or face possible countermeasures against both its board members and the financial institutions that employ them.
Maas’s stark warning against US domination of global payments comes with relations between Germany and the US in their worst state for decades. Mr Trump has chastised Berlin over its large surplus in bilateral trade with the USA, its relatively low military spending and its support for Nord Stream 2, a new gas pipeline that will bring Russian gas directly to Germany.
In short: Europe has finally had enough and it plans on hitting Washington where it truly hurts: the money.