Meeting the World’s Demand for Safe Assets? Macroeconomic Policy and the International Status of the Euro after the Crisis


Year of publication: 2018
Author(s): Mattias Vermeiren
Appeared in: European Journal of International Relations


In this article I engage with the chartalist literature to explore the political foundations of international currencies. Drawing on this literature as well as on recent scholarship on the shortage of safe assets in the world economy, I challenge a prevailing premise of the IPE literature that international currency status needs to be based on conservative macroeconomic policy institutions and practices, which is deemed necessary to maintain foreign confidence in the stability of the real value of the international currency: I contend that international currency status in the post-crisis world economy hinges on the willingness and capacity of the currency provider to adopt accommodating monetary and fiscal policies. First, the central bank needs to be offer a backstop to the market for sovereign debt securities by acting as a lender-of-last-resort to the government, whereas fiscal policy expansion is necessary to sufficiently expand the stock of the only securities that can assume the function of genuinely safe assets: sovereign debt. Second, expansionary monetary and fiscal policies enable the international currency issuer to supply safe assets to the rest of the world by running deficits on its trade balance. This article analyzes how the ECB's monetary policy decisions in the wake of the crisis ran against these two prerequisites, constraining the Eurozone to become a large net provider of safe assets in the world economy. By linking these decisions to the creditor and export interests of the northern Eurozone countries, it disputes the ECB's 'neutral stance' regarding the internationalization of the euro.