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Open Letter: Roadmap Towards a Digital Programmable Euro

With this letter published on June 15, 2020, we would like to propose a long overdue, high-level roadmap concerning the digital programmable Euro. This initiative is supported by a large and diverse group of experts from across Europe and other countries. If you are also interested in supporting this initiative and being listed as a supporter below, then click here.

Our economy and the medium to exchange value are both evolving with the demands of trade, technology and commerce. In the past, new and more efficient payment methods have often supported economic growth in increasingly complex economic systems. Today, we are at a crossroads again.

The way consumers and businesses interact with each other is changing rapidly due to existing and future technological possibilities. New business models are emerging and existing business models are or will be digitally transformed. It is time that we update our monetary system and introduce adequate forms of digital money to make sure that it fits the needs of consumers and businesses. In particular, this includes the needs of emerging areas such as Industry 4.0, future mobility, logistics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and data monetization in general. These areas are and will be essential for Europe as a whole. Therefore, a digital programmable Euro is increasingly demanded by various stakeholders.

With this letter published on June 15, 2020, we would like to propose a high-level roadmap regarding the introduction of a digital programmable Euro, which must be accessible to consumers, industrial companies, financial organizations, and retailers. To be clear, our roadmap does not focus on a wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC). When we use the word “digital programmable Euro,” we are referring to a digital means of payment as a “cash equivalent”. This would be available for consumers, industrial companies, financial organizations, and retailers. We will elaborate on this in more detail below. It is not intended to replace but complement traditional cash. In our opinion, the digital programmable Euro should ideally be based on Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) in the form of a token in order to achieve the following benefits:

  • Users could be a wide array of individuals, industrial companies, financial organizations, and retailers.
  • Programmability through smart contracts to allow automated processes and financial services such as interest payments, loans, escrow accounts, leasing, factoring, etc.
  • Interoperability of the digital programmable Euro to achieve benefits across multiple ecosystems.
  • Machine-to-machine payments will be required in the future (machine economy). Users could therefore also be devices with the realm of the IoT, i.e. autonomous cars, machines, sensors etc.
  • Integration of delivery and payment on the same DLT system resulting in near-real-time settlements for securities, digitized rights, assets, services, and products.
  • Cross-border money transfer denoted in Euro end-to-end within seconds across the globe with verified senders and recipients.

Concerning the long-term perspective: The above-mentioned objectives cannot be met on a short-term basis. We acknowledge that the digital programmable Euro as a central bank-issued currency — a CBDC — is a large and demanding project. Several legitimate concerns need to be addressed, ranging from financial stability and monetary sovereignty to privacy as well as AML/CTF regulation. We believe that these challenges can be best tackled by a public-private partnership that exploits the comparative advantage of both the private and public sectors. The goal is to enable the private sector to innovate and build intelligent solutions for clients. At the same time, the public sector should make sure that this innovation happens within the regulated environment, which guarantees financial stability and proper supervision.

Concerning the short-term perspective: It is important to understand that the digital programmable Euro will also be needed in the short-term. Therefore we propose a roadmap to ultimately get to a CBDC in the long run whilst providing short-term solutions for the digital programmable Euro on DLT meeting current and future demands as they arise.

Our proposal for a roadmap: We propose the following milestones as a roadmap for a step-by-step implementation in order to make the digital programmable Euro available as soon as possible. We feel that (i) the demand for the digital programmable Euro is increasing progressively and (ii) the supply side should urgently develop appropriate solutions. This is the timeline of our roadmap:

  • Q3/Q4 2020: Building knowledge. Financial institutions, regulators, supervisors and central banks should engage in knowledge transfer, learning and understanding the benefits of the digital programmable Euro. They should conduct an intense market analysis to specify concrete needs for the digital programmable Euro. This can only be successful if industrial corporations, retail companies and associations are also investigating the potential of the digital programmable Euro for their business models so that they can clearly express their demand. The goal of this first step is to quickly elevate decision-makers to a level of knowledge that empowers them to make decisions.
  • Q2 2021: DLT-enabling payment API. The financial services sector should develop a DLT-enabling payment API that connects legacy payment infrastructure (i.e., IBAN accounts) with DLT networks. This would be sufficient for the next few years as a solution for companies to offer products and services to the market given that demand for the digital programmable Euro is slowly but gradually increasing. Multiple organizations in Europe are already working on solutions based on DLT to integrate legacy payment systems. Ideally, this DLT-enabling payment API is developed with a high degree of standardization such that a high share of commercial banks and payment processors are included. This standard does not exist yet and has to be specified now.
  • Q4 2022: Establishment of a Euro token standard to be issued on various DLT networks. The private sector — specifically companies from the financial services, retail and industrial sector — should establish a token standard for the Euro with the goal: Issuing the digital programmable Euro in form of DLT-based tokens. This system must be set up in a way that the issuance can be undertaken by individual financial organizations on multiple DLT networks. Multiple technical DLT frameworks and multiple consortia already exist. With a Euro token standard, it would be possible to issue the digital programmable Euro on any technical framework and/or in any consortium. Whilst some companies in Europe have started working on such projects, more industry discussions are needed. This would ideally be facilitated by public institutions to guarantee neutrality. Based on a token standard, the digital programmable Euro could be launched by Q4 2022. With a token standard, this digital programmable Euro could be issued on multiple DLT networks to allow for interoperability. This type of the digital programmable Euro would be a privately-issued digital programmable Euro. Specifically, it would be commercial bank money similarly to the way banks issue money, or how Paypal and others operate, today but issued on DLT networks.
  • Q1 2024: Issuance by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB should issue a retail CBDC as a public-sector-issued digital programmable Euro to augment the developments in the private sector and fill potential gaps of the previously issued digital programmable Euro by private organizations. We believe it is important to maintain the current two-tier monetary system as the underlying architecture. This preserves the economic and legal advantages of the current system while enabling innovation and accessibility.

Facebook initiated the Libra platform that aims to launch later this year (i.e., Q4 2020). China has already started to develop the digital version of their currency in 2014 — the DC/EP initiative — and is now testing its system where selected Chinese employees receive parts of their salary based on this platform.

Hence, we are already falling behind. Apparently, experts acknowledge that the initiative of the Chinese government to establish a digital version of their currency is about 6–8 years ahead in comparison to European CBDC initiatives.

As China and the Libra Association work on their projects with high intensity, the topic of digital programmable currencies in general and the digital programmable Euro specifically have become a geopolitical hot topic. Organizations and institutions in Europe should intensify their effort to avoid a situation where the digital programmable Euro will be run on infrastructure that is entirely or in significant parts organized by non-European organizations.

In order to ensure the competitiveness of Europe in the digital age, a digital means of payment is therefore inevitable. We deem DLT technology to be appropriate to achieve these benefits while being a perfect fit from a regulatory perspective at the same time. Traditional companies and start-ups alike are ready to create new business models in the area of Industry 4.0, logistics, supply chain management, data monetization, etc.

We cannot afford to miss this huge opportunity in Europe.

This letter is supported by individuals and organizations that support the call for the digital programmable Euro and a rough — but feasible — roadmap to implement it. The supporters are primarily experts in the DLT ecosystem (i) who understand the strong dynamics in the worldwide DLT space as they are connected to other experts on a global level and (ii) who work on related projects or have years of experience with DLT.

Supporters

The people who support this initiative are listed below. If you also want to support this initiative and appear on the following list, please click here. Even after the publication date of this Medium article, it is possible to support this initiative and to be included in the list of supporters below:

Do you think your name should appear here?

These are the supporters up until 2020–07–11 11:56 CEST. Do you agree with this roadmap and do you want to support this initiative? Then, please click here.

Written by

Professor | Lecturer | Author | Investor | Frankfurt School Blockchain Center

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