Plans to reduce European Union dependence on the US dollar have been rumoured for a while now, as China’s alternative to the Petrodollar continues to gain strength. The EU is not signing up to the move by Russia, China and the other BRICS bloc nations to replace the dollar but are thinking involvement with the emerging economies bid to break US economic hegemony will improve the 27 member Union’s ability to run an independent foreign policy without having to fear US bullying through sanctions for opposing Washinton’s attempts to dominate global political and economic events. The EU plan was unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission.
The proposal has gained support among European Union member states as companies in EU countries have felt presured to withdraw investments from Iran by the threat of punitive secondary sanctions from the US for any nation which permits its citizens or business community to trade with the Shi’ite Muslim theocracy.
The EU, unlike the US, wants to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran signed in 2015, but needs to deliver on its side of the bargain by increasing trade with Tehran. Less likely to be discussed in mainstream media is that European arms manufacturers, particularly those in Britain, Germany, France and, surprisingly perhaps, Sweden, will benefit greatly from a new arms race if they are in a position to supply both sides.
Iranian rulers are becoming impatient as the EU strives to create a financial mechanism to shield European exporters and importers from the effects of US sanctions on corporations, banks and individuals that continue to trade with Iran. US secondary sanctions can be applied on any European firm with links to the US market. I find this rather surprising as back in the 1960s when I studied economics, it was common knowledge that jurisdictions with lax trade regulation regimes like Panama or The Bahamas could be used to obfuscate paper trails and evade sanctions, tariffs and taxes.
The commission is perhaps reluctant to use Gibraltar’s port facilities for trans — shipping goods bound eventually for Iran because of the uncertain position of The Rock post Brexit. Instead Brussels is focusing on increasing the use of the euro in energy markets by creating a financial vehicle to facilitate settlement of oil contracts in the single currency, thus bypassing sanctions by avoiding any dollar transactions. Along with other such bilateral agreement systems, the plan is part of a longer-term move to “de-dollarise” the world economy.
Measures included in the EU policy involve using the euro as default currency in energy contracts agreed between EU member states and non-EU countries, as well as the creation of euro-denominated price benchmarks for crude oil. The EU is one of the world’s largest energy importers.
The commission press release also suggests the EU must develop “a full range of trustworthy interest rate benchmarks” in and a fully integrated instant payment system acceptable in all financial markets. The bloc will also seek to develop the role of the euro in foreign exchange markets.
In launching the long-term plan, EU economic affairs commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, said: “A wider use of the euro in the global economy yields important potential for better protecting European citizens and companies against external shocks and making the international finance and monetary system more resilient.”
The commissioner added these plans came “at a time where the recent global trends, the emergence of new economic powers along with the development of new technologies are supporting a potential shift towards a more diversified and multipolar system of several global currencies”.
Responding to the EU announcement an Iranian official said:
“Based on the news I recently received and was confirmed by a European commissioner, from now on, the EU is going to ditch the US dollar and just use the euro in the financial transactions of all European oil deals with other countries,” said Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said the amount of these transactions is more than €300 billion. “Previously, the EU used to pay 85 percent of the money for the oil it purchased from other countries in US dollars, but now with this new mechanism, all the money will be paid in euros,” he said.
Once the mechanism takes effect, the US dollar will be isolated as a global currency, and the US will no longer be able to use dollars in the current dominating way, Salehi added.
His comments came one day after the EU commission presented its plan to reduce the dollar’s overwhelming dominance of the global economy and to strengthen the role of the euro, particularly for energy transactions. There will be a lnee jerk reaction from the left of US politics, to blame Donald Trump for this development, the EU have already accused the Trump Administration of weaponising the reserve currency, although that is unfair because the US has used its position as holder of the reserve currency as a political weapon since the 1960s. In fact the move towards de-dolarisation, led by China, Russia and Iran, has been going on for some years now, the initial moves having been made early in the Obama era, though even before Obama took office there was widespread dissatisfaction with the way the USA used dollar dominance to influence political developments outside its borders. It has alredy attracted many trading partners, perhaps US economic belligerence is an attempt to combat this. If so it is the wrong approach.
European capitals have become increasingly frustrated with the global dominance of the dollar as a reserve currency, which hands the United States unparalleled diplomatic and economic power in a globalized world. This hostility was exacerbated when economic sanctions imposed on Russia after it’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Many European nations were hit harder by those sanctions than Russia.