‘Euro banknotes and euro coins are the only legal tender in the euro area. The legal tender status of euro banknotes and coins is protected by the EU Treaties and secondary EU legislation. During the COVID-19 outbreak, citizens have tended to prefer electronic payments in order to avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing’, the Commission said in reply to a question submitted by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Christine Anderson and Gunnar Beck of the Identity and Democracy Group.
However, it is ignoring the fact that customers often have no choice between cash and card payments. The institutions of the European Union are, sadly, setting a negative example in this respect: payment by cash is no longer possible.
There are currently no definitive studies showing that germs or the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be spread between humans via banknotes. This overreaction, which is precautionary and has no scientific basis, deprives people in the EU of some of the freedom that the use of cash offers.
On 15 September 2020, MEPs Anderson and Beck sent another written parliamentary question to the European Commission. The MEPs asked the Commission “does it have any scientific evidence (including, where possible, the source and the number of cases) that COVID-19 is transferred by means of payment with euro coins or euro banknotes?” and “does it intend to address, on the basis of its Action Plan against Disinformation, allegations that cash payments favour the transfer of COVID-19?”
In closing, both parliamentarians enquired “in order to increase confidence in the euro, does the Commission intend to encourage citizens and traders in the Member States to continue to accept cash payments in good faith?”
On 09 December, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni responded on behalf of the European Commission. In his answer, he said that “several national authorities have encouraged the use of electronic payments and the European Banking Association has called on payment services providers to facilitate consumers’ ability to make payments without the need for physical contacts”.
Commissioner Gentiloni reported that “Euro banknotes and euro coins are the only legal tender in the euro area: Article 128 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union lays down the legal tender status of euro banknotes, and Article 11 of the Council Regulation (EC) No 974/98(1) does so with regard to euro coins”. He further explained that “recital 19 of Council Regulation (EC) No 974/98 recognises, however, that limitations on payments in notes and coins can be established by Member States ‘for public reasons’ and that this is ‘not incompatible with the status of legal tender of euro banknotes and coins, provided that other lawful means for the settlement of monetary debts are available’”.
Commissioner Gentiloni also clarified that “to date, there is only limited research available on the possible spread of the COVID-19 via cash” and “The European Central Bank is currently conducting a study on this”.
In ending, Commissioner Gentiloni asserted that “when authoritative information is available, the Commission expects online platforms, which are signatories of the Code to Practice on Disinformation, to prioritise authentic and authoritative information in search, feeds or other automatically ranked distribution systems”.
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