Why are the National Bank's gold and currency reserves not ordinary assets?

The reserves hold a special position in economic terms, as stated, among others, by Professor Paul De Grauwe: "Private shareholders have no claim on the gold and other reserves of the National Bank. Those reserves are based on monetary policy and are an investment owned by the whole community."

From an ethical point of view, too, it is clear that these reserves, which were built up by the competitiveness of the Belgian economy and the efforts of the whole population, cannot be pocketed by a small minority.

Legally, the National Bank has the right of ownership of these reserves, in the sense of civil law, but cannot dispose of them freely since the assets are intended for its tasks in the public interest. This ownership is similar to fiduciary ownership. In any case, the question of who is the ultimate owner of these assets does not arise so long as the National Bank continues its activities as a "going concern". If the National Bank were ever to cease to exist – and there is certainly no question of that at present – the legislature would have to decide what should become of the assets. They would probably have to be transferred together with the corresponding liabilities (mainly banknotes) to the institution replacing the National Bank as the bank of issue.