Briefing Paper

Benjamin J Cohen and Paola Subacchi
  • When Europe's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) became effective nearly a decade ago, the euro was seen as having the potential to be the second pillar of the international monetary system. It was expected to share leadership in monetary affairs with the United States.
  • Ten years later, however, the story looks quite different. Although the euro has firmly established itself as an international currency, the degree of change has been considerably less than expected. Europe's joint money remains at a distinct disadvantage in relation to America's greenback, limiting the role it can play in global monetary governance. The euro is not yet ready for 'prime time' and can at best play only a subordinate role to the dollar in the global system. This can be described as a one-and-a-half currency system - certainly not a two-pillar world.
  • The problem lies in the governance structure of EMU. Because the euro is a currency without a country, based on an inter-state agreement, participating members find it difficult to speak with a single voice.
  • The solution lies in a reform of EMU's governing rules and institutions that would put greater emphasis on the euro's external dimension. On the one hand this calls for more proactive management of the currency's exchange rate by the European Central Bank (ECB), together with an explicit commitment by the Eurogroup -the euro zone's informal committee of finance ministers - to undertake effective coordination of national fiscal policies. On the other hand it means designating a single representative of EMU with real authority to speak on behalf of members in international councils. Unless the euro zone can learn how to project power more successfully than it has until now, dual leadership of monetary affairs at the global level will remain out of reach.