One of the major brain childs of Robert Triffin is without any doubt the ECU (European Currency Unit). In Triffin’s thinking the ECU was to assume several functions: first, to provide an alternative to the US dollar in international official reserve holdings; second, to provide an alternative in private internal portfolios; third, to provide an alternative to the US dollar in international trade invoicing and payments; and, finally, to become eventually the currency of the integrated European economic and monetary union. The desirability of these functions is both obvious and debatable. The evolution of the international monetary system has redistributed the initial concentration of the key currency role of the dollar over several currencies. This redistribution has been influenced both by market forces and political decisions, although national policy makers have been hesitant to declare unequivocally their fundamental preferences concerning the international role of their currency. The authorities of the currencies which have the potential of becoming dollar substitutes are reluctant to assume the responsibility of managing an international reserve currency exposed to the risk of shifts in preferences of major holders of such a currency; tempting is the scope of seigniorage privileges.
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