- Germany's foreign minister has challenged the US monopoly on the global payments infrastructure.
- Writing in the German daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday, Heiko Maas said: "It is indispensable that we strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States."
- "It is high time to re-evaluate our partnership," he said.
- European businesses have been caught between the European Union and the US over trade with Iran amid US sanctions.
- The French energy giant Total officially pulled out of the country on Monday under US pressure.
The US monopoly over the global payments infrastructure has been challenged by Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, who has suggested that the European Union should set up its own payment system that would give Brussels independence from Washington.
Maas wrote in the German daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday that the EU should "strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States — a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system."
Swift is a global payment management system based in Belgium that allows financial institutions to send and receive information about transactions. Swift claims political neutrality, but it has reportedly bowed to US influence in the past, blocking transactions to Cuba and Iran.
Maas' comments come in the midst of a stand-off between the US and Europe over US sanctions against Iran. The US has vowed not to do business with any companies that operate in Iran, but Brussels has tried to exempt European firms by using a "blocking statute" under EU law.
So far, the efforts do not appear to be working. On Monday, the French energy giant Total officially announced it was pulling out of Iran. Other European companies including Maersk and Peugeot have also withdrawn in recent weeks.
"Europe should not allow the US to act over our heads and at our expense," Maas wrote.
The foreign minister added it was vital that Europe stick to the Iran deal, an agreement that asks Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for freedom from crippling sanctions that have restricted trade.
"Every day the deal is alive is better than the highly explosive crisis that would otherwise threaten the Middle East," he wrote.
Maas called for a "balanced partnership" with the US, in which Europe would fill gaps in the world left by the American withdrawal. He said Europe must "form a counterweight when the US crosses red lines."
The statement by Maas was the "strongest call yet for EU financial and monetary autonomy vis-à-vis US," Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute, a Berlin-based think tank, told the Financial Times.
"It is high time to re-evaluate our partnership … The Europeans must become a mainstay of the international order, a partner for all who are committed to this order," Maas wrote.