It’s a declaration of war. An unprecedented body blow to trans-Atlantic relationships based on trust and common values. An insult to Europe, which also shows how it is weakening. By threatening BNP Paribas, the biggest bank in the eurozone, with a dollar-transfer ban, the United States has crossed more than a red line. In economic and financial terms, it’s the equivalent of using nuclear weapons — against allies, which the United States no longer is, because it would never envisage using it against its Chinese creditor. In short, how is it possible to perceive otherwise such an extraordinary sign of aggression toward France, which, from Libya to Mali or Syria, has shown itself to be a model ally to Washington? It is critical that Barack Obama’s visit this week to the beaches of the Normandy landings allows sense to be brought back to a case where one wonders how things could have been pushed to such irrational extremes. It is necessary to consider the enormity of the upheaval if one of the five most active banks in the world in terms of the dollar is denied access to it. It would be a worldwide cataclysm.
Without question, this run-away situation is due to the American political context. Opinion has hardened against the banks and a federal administration too easy on them. Attorney General Eric Holder is thus making a political move. This activist, who likes to be filmed in his office playing upholder of the law, announced, a few days before letting the name of the French bank slip, that he wouldn’t hesitate to prosecute “certain financial institutions … no matter how large or how profitable” because they are not “above the law.” His crusade, packaged up in the great principles of the right, can be seen as a media tactic, while Barack Obama, indecisive in the White House, lets it go, as usual.
These political ploys need to stop. The French bank should pay for its mistakes, just as many other banks have. But there is no justification for the proposed sanctions, especially considering the much greater offenses committed by the American banks themselves. This double standard is unacceptable. There is no greater hypocrisy than filling the coffers of a state that caused the greatest crisis since the 1930s with other people’s money. The world should be asking for explanations from America, not the other way around! If the White House does not act quickly — and we’re talking days, not weeks — it will be up to the Federal Reserve, guarantor of the banking system’s integrity but strangely quiet up to now, to blow the whistle. Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, should move into action to remind everyone of this. It is time for tensions to abate and common sense to come back to the fore.