European Central Bank wakes up to cryptocurrencies amid concerns about the unregulated world

Representation of the Bitcoin virtual currency standing on the PC motherboard is seen in this illustration

Germany and France are leading a push among the world's biggest economies to regulate cryptocurrencies, and Mersch's European Central Bank colleague Benoit Coeure said last month that he had expected the topic to feature prominently during a Group of 20 meeting in Argentina in March.

"Virtual currencies are not money, nor will they be for the foreseeable future", Mersch said in London.

Until recently, policymakers dismissed cryptocurrencies as a speculative experiment. Bitcoin has been heavily invested in during 2017 with the new wealth created totalling $684 billion within three month before the price of bitcoin entered into a stark decline in 2018.

"Let me first say that we are not observing a systemically relevant holding of digital currencies by supervised institutions - by banks, in other words".

The single supervisory mechanism may be designed as a response to such developments, aiming to ensure that the pitfalls don't become too severe for banks eyeing this space. France and Germany are now investigating this front.

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Cartens also views bitcoin as "a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster".

The head of the Bank for International Settlements said there is a "strong case" for authorities to rein in digital currencies to safeguard the "real value" of money. Mersch said the European Central Bank is fully in line with Carstens' views and that they have similar worries.

"The question is not so much that these virtual currencies are already at a level that would cause a huge disruption in the real economy, but we are now more concerned about the social and psychological effect they seem to have".

The ECB chief said banks had so far shown only "limited appetite" for investments in cryptocurrencies but added that recent developments "like the listing of bitcoin futures contracts could lead also European banks to hold positions in bitcoin".

Draghi further noted the recent global developments in the bitcoin space, particularly the listing of Bitcoin futures contracts by U.S. exchanges.

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