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France’s Newly-Appointed ‘Monsieur Bitcoin’ Is a Notable Cryptocurrency Skeptic

Governments around the world are trying to get a handle on the cryptocurrency phenomenon, and now France has appointed what Les Echos called a “Monsieur Bitcoin”—or Mr. Bitcoin—to develop a Gallic approach to the topic.

Jean-Pierre Landau, a Sciences Po economic professor and former Bank of France deputy governor, will lead a task force to grapple with the risks around cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced Monday.

Landau’s stance on bitcoin is less than mysterious. Back in 2014, he wrote a Financial Times op-ed in which he criticized the virtual currency for being “unsuitable as a means of exchange” and said it was only attractive for two reasons: anonymity—as desired by money launderers and tax evaders—and speculation.

“Bitcoins are the tulips of modern times,” he wrote at the time. “The mania is not yet over. But the longer it lasts, the more investors are likely to be burnt.”

At that time, one bitcoin was worth $860. Last month, it cleared $19,600—but then it suffered multiple crashes, and is currently wobbling around the $12,000 mark. Many people did indeed get burned—but certainly not those who bought into bitcoin at $860.

Anyhow, Landau’s taskforce will have to deliver to Le Maire some ideas about how France should proceed with bitcoin regulation. The minister said he was after ways to control the development of cryptocurrencies and stop them from being used for tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of criminal activities.

Le Maire also asked Argentina—which currently holds the presidency of the G20 group of countries—to “seize” the question of dealing with cryptocurrencies.

It will be interesting to see what the French task force proposes. The European Union is already in the process of finalizing new anti-money laundering (AML) rules that cover virtual currencies. The issue of rampant speculation, however, is something else.

Bitcoin’s recent woes have been widely attributed to moves by the authorities in South Korea and China to tackle the issue by banning cryptocurrency exchanges. However, without further international cooperation, the decentralized nature of systems such as bitcoin make it very difficult to stop people from using them.