In recent years, local currencies have emerged all across France. Legally coexisting alongside the Euro, they include the Tinda in Pau, the Radis in Ungersheim, the Heol in Brest and the Luciole in Ardèche. Dozens of these “complementary currencies” have already met with growing success. So what is driving this infatuation with local currencies?
Not just authorized, but encouraged
Whether they are called “social currencies”, “parallel currencies”, “solidarity currencies” or “complementary local currencies”, these new local currencies are backed by the Euro and used within a limited area.
While the first three designations sprang up in a legal gray area, the French law on the Social and Solidarity Economy granted legal recognition to “complementary local currencies” in 2013, although the Economic, Social and Environmental Council emphasizes that these currencies are not subject to social security contributions and taxes.
And in April 2015, a report submitted to Carole Delga, French Secretary of State in charge of Trade, Crafts, Consumption and the Social and Solidarity Economy, advised the French government to encourage the development of these currencies, which have the potential to stimulate local trade for the benefit of local populations!
Local actors lead the way
Backed by community organizations or local authorities that issue their own currency (after seeking approval from the French central bank), complementary local currencies provide a means of payment that may be used:
• Within a limited area (defined at the outset)
• By a specific group: organization members, local shoppers, retailers or producers, etc.
• To purchase goods, services, skills, etc.
• For a limited period of time – they carry an expiration date – as it remains illegal to save these currencies: their purpose is to circulate!
Ethical and economic objectives
Alternative currencies have stood up to the challenge. Not only are they widely adopted, but they also have a real impact on stimulating local activity. In fact, according to their creators, local currencies have led virtually all of their users to frequent businesses they previously did not even know about.
This illustrates how complementary local currencies provide an excellent means to combat outsourcing, build new social ties, preserve local jobs and more. In addition, the currencies also serve ethical and environmental objectives – for example, local consumption reduces emissions tied to transporting goods.
In practice, an organization creates a local currency that its members purchase with Euros (the collected sum constitutes a guarantee fund managed by the banking partner). Members can then spend the currency at local businesses taking part in the initiative.
Spotlight on the Abeille
In 2010, the non-profit organization “Agir pour le vivant” created France’s first complementary local currency, the Abeille (or bee), in Villeneuve-sur-Lot (47).
1. Businesses and individuals from the local community can join by paying membership dues to the organization.
Businesses agree to follow an ethics charter and six of them serve as exchange offices, where private individuals can purchase Abeilles with Euros. All funds collected in Euros are deposited at the NEF (a financial cooperative) to serve as a guarantee fund.
2. Individuals can then pay for purchases within the network of participating businesses using their Abeilles: change is given in Abeilles for bills, and in Euros for coins.
3. Businesses holding Abeilles can use the currency to pay for purchases from suppliers in the network – which encourages them to buy from local suppliers.
If they collect too much of the local currency, they can contact the organization to exchange their Abeilles for Euros (minus a 2% commission).
4. If not used before the expiry date printed on the bill, the Abeilles lose 2% of their face value (what is known as a scrip).
5. Through membership dues, scrips and exchange commissions, the association collects funds for its daily operations (printing bills, communication, etc.).