Correspondent in Berlin
And it is a fact. The European Central Bank (ECB) has announced in a statement the launch of its digital currency pilot project, with the aim of introducing the virtual euro in the long term, a response to the growing “dematerialization” of money and the already unstoppable multiplication of cryptocurrencies. ANDhe ECB speaks of a first “investigation phase” to provide the citizens of the euro zone “a currency in its safest form”, according to the institution, which brings us closer to the time when we can use a digital euro account at the same institution. This first phase will be the most important test analysis since the launch of the euro. If all goes well, the digital euro will be able to see the light around 2025, adding with some delay to the explosion of online payments that the pandemic accelerated since 2020. Even in Germany, a country where cash payments were still the majority, versus card payments, consumers changed that trend in 2020 for the first time in the history of the euro.
Several countries are working on similar digital currency projects, such as United States and China, which has been allowing payment in digital yuan via mobile phone since March and aims to convert this digital currency into an international reference that competes with the dollar. In 2019, Facebook announced its own virtual currency project and the ECB understood that it would be left behind in an already irreversible race if it did not start preparing its own offering. “The ECB currency will be at the heart of the European payment system, reinforcing Europe’s autonomy in this era of digital currencies”, said Fabio Panetta, member of the ECB’s council, after insisting on the need for competitive payment systems that protect European sovereignty.
The digital euro will allow companies and individuals to dispose of the currency directly through an account at the ECB, without the intermediation of commercial banks, and that is another great novelty of the project. The money will be protected from bankruptcies or losses, will enjoy the highest levels of guarantees and the ECB ensures that it will be an easy and secure payment method, from buying a flat to paying at the supermarket, both online and through an application downloaded to your mobile phone. Users will be able to make transfers or payments between Europeans, thus reducing banking costs, with a “portfolio” of digital euros available 24 hours a day. The ECB It also guarantees that “a euro today will be worth a euro tomorrow”, escaping the speculation that has been unleashed around unofficial digital currencies, such as bitcoin, as well as the most demanding data security conditions.
Banks will be the most affected by this project, since it is foreseeable that savers will switch to this format to avoid the rising costs of managing deposit bank accounts and a flight of capital to the ECB. That is why the ECB will study the possibility of taxing accounts in digital euro from a certain amount, which could be 3,000 euros, as mentioned by Panetta. “We are going to continue issuing cash,” he assured, adding that “payment habits will not change overnight with the issuance of the digital euro, although in the long term we are facing a change without going backwards” .