“War on Cash”: Social Partners call on the EU to enforce legal tender status of cash

The European Social Partners in Private Security, the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS) and UNI Europa, as well as the European Security Transport Association (ESTA) are reiterating their call on the European Union (EU) to enforce the legal tender status of cash. As part of a high-level debate on 28 October, the three parties presented an Action Plan to remind the European Commission that it is high time to make it illegal to refuse cash payment, in order to save jobs and preserve consumer and citizen rights.

The European Sectoral Social Partners for Private Security Services, CoESS and UNI Europa, as well as ESTA warn that the consequences of the “War on Cash” are impacting employment, consumer and citizen rights in the EU. To this end, they presented an Action Plan during a high-level debate on 28 October 2020 – including the call on the European Commission to enforce the legal tender status of cash in EU law.

The three parties sound the alarm because over the past years, the European payment market has been subject to fundamental changes. Electronic means of payments progressively extend their market share. Retail chains and other services promote electronic payments, and European citizens experience the increasing closure of bank branches and a reduction of cash services. What we witness in Europe is a “War on Cash”, in which the use of cash becomes increasingly difficult. The COVID-19 crisis has further accelerated this trend: large retail chains recommended cashless payments or even refused cash altogether, and payment operators have used unproven fears of contamination through cash to call for an increase in contactless payments limits.

The long-term consequences of this “War on Cash” will be dramatic. There is a real danger that the critical mass of cash in the market drops to a level where it will no longer be possible to ensure the sustainability and functioning of the cash cycle infrastructure. And cash is, in contrast to electronic means of payment, the only public money. It remains an essential payment system for relevant segments of the society, notably the economically disadvantaged, elderly, children and foreigners. The “War on Cash” is a fundamental issue of consumer and citizen rights and puts the jobs of service workers in many sectors at risk, including private security, financial services, printing, logistics and commerce.

At the high-level roundtable discussion with the European Commission and consumer right organisation BEUC, Catherine Piana, Director General of CoESS, therefore called on the European Commission to take action now: “We are facing a situation in which cash, as a public good, is under increasing pressure merely led by opportunistic business interests. The European Union, therefore, requires legislation that ensures the continued availability of cash to everyone and that enforces the legal tender status of cash, making it illegal to refuse payment in cash.”

Thierry Lebeaux, Secretary General of ESTA, added: “Ultimately, the fundamental question is, however, if anyone is entitled to accept or refuse cash as a payment as they see fit, does this means that cash is still legal tender? Legal tender should entail the legal certainty that cash will be accepted. In this case, Europe is lagging behind the US where a number of States have made cash acceptance mandatory.

Mark Bergfeld, Director of Property Services at UNI Europa: “Too many low-wage workers remain unbanked and excluded from participation in economic and social life in the European Union. The ‘war on cash’ is deepening existing inequalities within our society. The European Commission has a responsibility to ensure that using cash remains a universal right. With our joint demands, we are also ensuring that workers have a future in the Cash-in-Transit industry. Safeguarding cash means saving people’s jobs and livelihoods in these times of uncertainty.“

The Action Plan presented during the high-level roundtable will be implemented in the upcoming months and is a follow-up to a Joint Statement published by CoESS, UNI Europa and ESTA in November 2019 on the need to safeguard cash.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash