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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Affaire BNP Paribas: l’obligation de résister

by Pierre Ivorra

The Affair BNP Paribas: the Obligation to Resist

Translated Saturday 14 June 2014, by Henry Crapo

The charges made by the US courts against the French bank provide some idea of what is likely to happen under the transatlantic free-trade agreement currently being negotiated.

The Affair BNP Paribas, which is sending tremors throughout the banking sector, also "landed" on the Normandy beaches last weekend during the ceremonies to commemorate June 6, 1944. Accused of having violated, between 2002 and 2009, the UN embargo against Iran, Cuba and the Soudan. the French bank is threatened with a penalty of ten billion dollars (7.3 billion euros), deprival of its license for banking operations in the United States, together with an order making it illegal to carry out financial operations in dollars.

In a letter to the US president Barack Obama, president François Hollande calls to his attention "the disproportionate character of the planned sanctions, and the risks associated with them". It is true that the fine is astronomical. It is twice as high as that imposed upon the petroleum company BP for having polluted the Gulf of Mexico. But can one be content with asking the American authorities not to hit too hard, rather than contesting their right to strike?

One can be astonished that the justice system on the other side of the Atlantic can assume for itself the right to sanction operations undertaken overseas by foreign companies. The financial operations in favour of Iran, Soudan, and Cuba were in fact carried out by a subsidiary of the BNP Paribas in Geneva. This imperial power of judicial pursuit is written into the American legislation. The United States accords itself the right of inspection of all transactions carried out in dollars anywhere in the world, under the pretext that they are compensated each day in New York. The preponderance of US currency in international transactions being very high, one measures the breadth of the field that the US authorities have opened for their policy of financial cannon-fire. Following the Bretton Woods agreements in 1944, the dollar became the master key to the international monetary system. But does this justify the US being able to set the tone and lead the whole world system under its baguette?

The Domination Exercised by the Dollar is a Factor of the Crisis

The politics of embargo practiced by the United States with respect to Cuba has been condemned on many occasions by the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the United States itself, this embargo is regarded as outdated by large sections of public opinion. In the case of Iran, the embargo will most likely be progressively lifted. Can US justice continue to base its opinions on old practices inherited from the Cold War?

Finally this affair acts to reveal what will happen in Europe if the free-trade treaty between the US and Europe is ever signed. The French minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, conscious of worried public opinion, tries timidly to reply that it [the judicial action against the BNP] could have "negative" consequences for the free-trade treaty between the US and the European Union, currently being negotiated. In fact, the affair is serious: a series of dispositions under discussion risk permitting US multinationals to apply the legislation of their country to attack their competitors and the European states. Furthermore, other French and European banks are in the gunsights of US justice. But it is in the interest of the American and European peoples to cooperate, rather than to engage in a commercial and financial war. This calls for a fundamental change in international relations - in the monetary domaine, in particular. The domination of the dollar is a factor in this crisis, and risks in particular to have the effect of making it worse. There would not have been a BNP affair if, instead of the US dollar, a new worldwide common currency had been created, a money of cooperation rather than of domination.

In the face of the US attack, the directors of the BNP, the Central European Bank, its superior authority, are keeping a low profile. But Europe and its banking system have what is needed to face up to this situation, not to mention that it holds a sizeable portion of the US public debt. Europe and its peoples have everything to gain by resisting.

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