On August 31, 2016, the Association of Foreign Banks in Germany and Frankfurt Main Finance hosted the seventh edition of their successful Finanzplatz Frühstück (Financial Centre Breakfast) event series. More than eighty entrepreneurs and representatives of the financial sector, were in attendance to hear François Villeroy de Galhau, Gouverneur of the Banque de France, speak on the topic “European Growth – Challenges in uncertain Times.” Welcoming the audience, Dr. Oliver Wagner, Managing Director of the Association of Foreign Banks in Germany, stressed the importance of foreign banks as a critical economic factor for Frankfurt. “Foreign banks assume responsibility for the local economy and recognize the German Financial Centre as the core market in Europe.”
Villeroy de Galhau wasted no time delving into the current state of monetary policy within the EU and how to ensure sustainable growth. Stressing the importance of investment for growth, especially amongst SMEs, he expressed the need for the Capital Markets Union and the movement of risk and capital across borders. He also weighed in on the ECB’s current strategy of negative interest rates, which has been openly criticized by several German bankers. He described the strategy as a crucial instrument in fighting deflation, which he explained would be more damaging than the negative rates. Villeroy de Galhau continued, stating “Negative interest rates are useful but they are just one among many instruments and have their limits. This is why we have to stick to the current monetary policy. And yes, we’re doing so sustainably.” He did, however, reject the notion of the ECB providing helicopter money directly to consumers.
France and Germany are the major drivers of growth in the Union and, according to the Villeroy de Galhau, still have untapped opportunities to ensure sustainable growth for the future. One proposal highlighted in his address would be a so-to-say Erasmus Pro programme which would offer young people the opportunity to gain vocational training outside of their home country as well as provide them the European experience. Such a programme could be particularly useful for France and Germany. France has a demographic advantage in that they have many more young people than Germany, who boasts one of the best training and educational infrastructures in the world. Alleviating this deficit in skilled labour in both countries, and across the EU, would help to ensure sustainable growth for years to come.
Cooperation between France and Germany in the EU is critical for future growth and the success of the European Project. How does this look, however, in a Europe without the United Kingdom? Speculation is still the name of the game when it comes to Brexit, but Villeroy de Galhau did make it clear that they still want London to be at the centre of European Finance, but as Villeroy de Galhau stated, there will be “no free ride, and no cherry picking.” In other words, the UK must accept and abide by EU rules and regulations in order to gain access to European markets post-Brexit.
Frankfurt Main Finance’s Managing Director, Hubertus Väth, summarized the event, “Mr. Villeroy de Galhau encouraged German entrepreneurs to prepare to invest and take on risk. Only France and Germany can set European growth on an adequate track for growth.” Väth continued, stating, “Monetary policy can only be successful if the economy embraces monetary stimulus by accepting and making investments. In this case, trust plays a central role. Mr. Villeroy de Galhau’s contribution today in further developing this trust is not to be underestimated.”