• Date 27 November 2020

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

These have been very turbulent times for our EU Council Presidency. It has been marked deeply by the COVID-19 pandemic – both in terms of content and technically. It has highlighted the growing importance of digital technology in coping with the pandemic and in working towards a recovery. 

For example: the use of cash has declined more sharply than before. The amount of cashless transactions is rising significantly – even in Germany, a pretty cash-friendly country.

This is a time when we need to think about how Europeans will be making payments in five to ten years’ time. We need to take the relevant decisions today. Decisions concerning European sovereignty, including monetary sovereignty and competitive payment systems.

First, monetary sovereignty. Technological progress provides new digital opportunities, but not all of them are desirable. In particular, unregulated private digital currencies are not an option at all. This is a matter of financial stability, and thus also a matter of the stability of our economies. I will not support a privately issued parallel currency.

The European Commission has presented a legislative proposal on crypto-assets that aims at creating appropriate framework conditions.

We need to identify and address all relevant legal, regulatory and oversight challenges. At our informal ECOFIN meeting in September, together with my French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish colleagues, we pointed this out again very clearly in a joint statement.

Second, let’s talk about digital money. As I mentioned before, there is a strong trend toward cashless and digitalized means of payment. There is a demand for digital money among consumers and businesses alike. We need to meet this demand. This could boost innovation in Europe. That is why it is so important that the ECB attends to this matter and takes action. I fully support the ECB’s work on the digital euro. We need to take deliberate, but swift action.

We will act jointly on this: This is about innovation, technological leadership, and the Euro, both from a monetary policy point of view, and as the embodiment of the idea of Europe.

Third: competitive payment systems. To be competitive internationally, we need a European infrastructure that enables faster, inexpensive and cross-border payments. And we need it soon. For the time being, we are too slow and too fragmented in Europe in developing this infrastructure.

The effects of digitalization are particularly visible when it comes to payments. Trends show earlier here than in other areas – because cashless payments have been electronic for years. This is why it is all the more important for the payments infrastructure to work smoothly, inexpensively and safely.

With the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), we have a good system in place when it comes to payments in Euros within the European Union. And we will improve on international payments. It is a good thing that this topic is intensively discussed in international forums.

The conditions in the EU are a good starting point: the payments regulation is fully harmonized and the single market works. But we need competitive European players on the market for cross-border payments and on the market for internet payment methods, not only players from the US.

The Commission’s Retail Payments Strategy provides crucial impetus here. It underlines the important role of European market initiatives. They will make an important contribution to competition.

The European Payments Initiative (EPI) is a promising approach. And I want to encourage others, too, to move forward with innovative ideas. We should show that digital innovations can be “made in Europe”.

In this regard, I also welcome the efforts of the German credit industry under the caption DK (Deutsche Kreditwirtschaft). They bundle transactions done by card and those via other payment tools into a new system that can eventually be integrated into the EPI. This will significantly advance both the German and the European payment market. But here, too, things should move faster.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need to strengthen European digital sovereignty. This makes payments infrastructure and regulation a political issue.

We need a pan-European payment scheme. It is important to promote European values including consumer and merchant protection. And we need to make sure that the data that is linked to our payments is under European control.

European digital financial innovations can only develop fully within a Digital Single Market. The Commission’s Digital Finance Package will provide a sustained boost for this. It comes at exactly the right time. And – with its numerous measures – it is very ambitious. To support Europe’s strategic autonomy, we will continue to advance the digital agenda. And take forward the initiatives we have pushed under the German EU Presidency.

Thank you.