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Jean-Claude Trichet (1): My 25-year journey with the euro

A recent photo of the author

"Jean-Claude. Now it is your turn!" It was at the beginning of 2010: Leaders of the world's central banks had gathered for a regular meeting in Basel, Switzerland. Those words were spoken to me by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, during a tete-a-tete breakfast meeting at the Hilton Hotel there.

A year and a half after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the epicenter of the financial crisis had moved from the U.S. to Europe.

Global investors saw Greece, Ireland and Portugal as the most vulnerable nations in the eurozone and began to attack the signatures issued by these countries.

As chairman of the Fed, Bernanke had taken decisive action when the world was on the brink of a great depression. Now, the burden of responsibility had fallen on my shoulders, as president of the European Central Bank.

The subprime crisis of 2007, the Lehman shock of 2008 and the eurozone debt crisis of 2010-'12 were three acts of a global-crisis play that the advanced economies suffered through. It was threatening to be the worst global crisis since World War I, nearly a century ago.

At the very beginning of the crisis, the ECB took the lead in making a variety of key decisions, including the unlimited supply of liquidity in full allotment to European banks. In 2010 and 2011 we purchased large amounts of government debts to preserve monetary policy transmission.

These were moments where we were repeatedly making new history. Doing that over and over was a tremendous responsibility.

Like a lead surgeon, you need to view the complete picture to be able to use your full capabilities. But your hands should not tremble at all. It was a prolonged period of tension.

My career spanned a period of challenge for Europe. The traumatic history of two devastating world wars spurred the beginning of the major and historic undertaking of European integration.

I had the great privilege to serve as adviser to French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing; then as chief of staff for Finance Minister Edouard Balladur; head of the Treasury; governor of the Banque de France; and then president of the ECB. From 1986 to 2011, I had a front-row seat for 25 uninterrupted years during the design and establishment of the euro.

Euro bank notes bear the signature of the president of the ECB as proof of authenticity. My signature, which you see on the left, were put on 14 billion bank notes during my tenure, so at the time it was probably the most widely circulated signature in the world.

The completely new currency was introduced among 11 member states in 1999. With Lithuania joining next January, membership in the euro will have widened to 19 states. The credibility of the euro as a currency without borders used by 330 million Europeans has remained unshaken even in the face of the most dramatic global financial crisis in the last 70 years. Observers have noted that the total value of euro banknotes in circulation exceeded that of the dollar in 2006 and has remained above the dollar ever since.

I have also been engaged in other important matters. One is the modernization of France under various administrations. The euro would have never materialized without the reforms to promote jobs and growth that strengthened the French economy, which is at the core of Europe, in the '80s and '90s.

During my eight years as chairman of the Paris Club I also coped with debt problems in Africa, Latin America and in former Communist states.

I've experienced tough currency negotiations and friction with leaders of governments a great number of times, from the European currency crisis and developing world debt crises of the '80s and '90s, to the present European debt crisis. But no matter how difficult the stage, fortunately I've been able to sleep well and recharge my batteries. I've been blessed with a capability to distance myself from the difficulties at hand.

Until now, I have never written my memoirs in either France or Europe. Throughout my career I have concentrated on the responsibilities that have fallen on me. I considered it my duty to cope with the many challenges of the present and future and not to ponder on my past.

It has been nearly three years since I relinquished all weighty responsibilities. When I heard that a Japanese newspaper company was publishing a series of life stories over a period of one month, I thought it would now be a good thing to reflect on my work and my personal life.

I could not be happier if readers find things to learn from the record of my voyage through the rough seas of numerous crises in Europe and the world.

Jean-Claude Trichet is former president of the European Central Bank. In a series of 29 columns simultaneously being published daily in The Nikkei, Mr. Trichet recounts his life, including his turbulent years at the helm of the ECB when the eurozone was embroiled in a debt crisis.

The "My Personal History" ("Watashi no Rirekisho") series of autobiographies first appeared in The Nikkei in 1956. Since then, a wide variety of world-changing individuals have written or dictated their life stories for publication. The list includes Margaret Thatcher, Suharto, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir bin Mohamad, George W. Bush, Alan Greenspan, Jack Welch, Tom Watson and Seiji Ozawa.

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