The European Commission has put forward a package of legislation that would safeguard the role of cash in the financial system, and set up the framework for the introduction of a digital euro.
The commission said that, although acceptance of cash was high on average across the euro area, issues had emerged in some member states and sectors.
It added that some people had also had difficulties in accessing cash, as a result of closures of ATMs and bank branches.
Under the commission’s proposal, member states will need to ensure “widespread acceptance” of cash payments, as well as “sufficient and effective” access to cash.
States must monitor and report on any problems identified, with the commission stepping in to specify measures, if necessary.
The EU body said that the proposal would ensure the financial inclusion of vulnerable groups who relied more on cash, such as older people.
The second part of the package sets out the legal framework and essential elements of a digital euro that would enable the European Central Bank (ECB) to introduce a digital currency if and when it decided to do so.
Mairead McGuinness (Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets, pictured) described the digital-currency plan as “an important European project”.
“By complementing cash, I have no doubt that a digital euro will bring advantages to citizens and businesses across the EU. But I am aware that it requires people’s trust and confidence,” she stated, adding that the announcement today (28 June) was the start of “long democratic process”.
Online and offline payments
Under the commission’s plan, the digital euro would be available alongside existing national and international private means of payment, such as cards or applications.
“People and businesses could pay with the digital euro anytime and anywhere in the euro area,” it said.
The EU body points out that a digital euro would be available for online and offline payments, and that payments could be made from device to device without an internet connection, from locations such as a remote area or underground car park.
“While online transactions would offer the same level of data privacy as existing digital means of payments, offline payments would ensure a high degree of privacy and data protection for users,” the commission stated.
ECB welcomes proposal
Under the plan, basic digital-euro services would be provided free of charge to individuals, and those who did not have a bank account would be able to open and hold an account with a post office or another public entity.
Merchants across the euro area would be required to accept the digital euro.
The measure will now be discussed by the European Parliament and EU Council.
The ECB welcomed the proposal, saying that its investigative phase of the project would conclude in October, when a decision would be made about moving to the next phase.