Many in Europe see currency speculation as 'economic terrorism'

Germany's finance minister says his government is considering sending spies to London and New York to monitor the activities of currency speculators.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the German Parliament on Tuesday that he may have to send spies to the world's two most important financial centers "to set up surveillance of who is getting together with whom for which kinds of speculative processes, and where,” according to a report at Bloomberg.

The move comes in the wake of Greece's debt crisis. Many European politicians and analysts blamed the crisis on currency speculation and credit default swaps, which they say caused the cost of servicing Greece's debt to jump this year, forcing the country into severe spending cuts that have led to a wave of protests and riots across the country. Greece's debt crisis, in turn, has caused the euro to plummet in value.

"A market frenzy in recent weeks saw traders make bets worth billions of dollars against the euro and on the chances of Greece not repaying its massive debts. Those market worries have undermined the currency," AP reported last week.

Schaeuble's remarks come after news reports last month that Spain had ordered its intelligence service to investigate “whether attacks by investors and the aggressiveness of some Anglo-Saxon media are being driven by market forces and challenges facing the Spanish economy, or whether there is something more behind this campaign,” in the words of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero.

The trend reflects a growing sense in European politics that many financial activities being pursued by large international banks and investors are harmful to national economies, and perhaps should be outlawed.

But the US government is resisting this sort of rhetoric. Europe and the United States have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter fight over how much to rein in the financial sector after the collapse of 2008. European finance ministers have called for restricting currency speculation, credit default swaps as well as hedge funds, which often bet against currencies. But the US contingent, led by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, has been resisting calls for such dramatic moves.

Yet even in the US, the bets placed against the euro have raised some alarm. The New York Times notes that "the Justice Department’s antitrust division is said to be examining whether at least four hedge funds colluded on a bet against the euro last month."


Economist Vanessa Rossi told Bloomberg that Germany's intelligence agency could use the same tools used in fighting terrorist funding and money laundering to go after currency speculators.

“Within continental Europe there are those that do think that financial speculators are sort of terrorists,” she said. “In their lexicon it is economic terrorism, so they may view this as more serious than the US or UK.”

At times, that view has taken extreme forms. Earlier this month, Luxembourg's finance minister, who heads the European Union's group of finance ministers, said financial markets were "blackmailing" the euro zone with their bets, and metaphorically threatened currency traders with torture.

“We have the instruments of torture in the basement,” he said, “and we’ll show them when it’s necessary."

The plan to send spies to London and Wall Street is "sinister and silly,” Philip Whyte of the Centre for European Reform told Bloomberg. He added that the idea reflects “a longstanding paranoia about the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism.”