As we stare down the barrel of a Greek default, the time has come for Europe's central banks to become more creative and constructive in their approach to the euro crisis.
An intriguing item on the consolidated balance sheet of those banks (at www.ecb.int) shows that they have revaluation earnings of €305bn, which have largely come from an increase in the price of gold since the system was formed.
Those profits are just sitting on account when the application of even one-third of this amount to some resolution mechanism could make a massive dent in Europe's spiralling debt.
Any move like this would represent a drastic shift in stance. Since the onset of the euro crisis, the ECB has guarded its independence from government interference very closely and board members criticise any proposal that they think might infringe on their mandate.
But, as argued in a related article last week, the concept of central-bank autonomy applies to the normal execution of monetary policy -- and these are not normal times.
Anyway, the euro system of central banks has abandoned one important function and no longer operates as originally conceived.
Independence is not an end in itself and operational autonomy should now give way to a higher-level review of how the ECB could better serve its purpose -- and better help to resolve an existential crisis.
The task of the euro system of central banks is to keep inflation low, while at the same time safeguarding financial stability and promoting financial integration. During the crisis, it has found that it cannot achieve all three goals at once.
•Price stability has remained paramount for the ECB and it has not hesitated to raise interest rates, even as some member states struggle to achieve growth.
•The financial stability of the banking systems in the core countries of the eurozone has been protected by insisting that all sovereign and banking debt on the periphery be repaid in full but...
•A financial barrier has been lowered between the periphery and the core as a result -- a barrier that prevents losses from migrating to the core and, by concentrating all debts in the periphery, also discourages any new market financing for those countries.
Some have suggested that the ECB should relax its inflation target in order to achieve its other two objectives.
Dormant economies would get a lift and government revenues would rise in an inflationary environment, thus relieving the debt problem on the periphery.
Moreover, the capacity of the ECB to absorb debt and ensure financial stability would be enhanced.
But there would be strenuous objections to such a change in mandate for the ECB, especially from Germany, and this could lead to a break-up of the euro zone.
Moreover, it could generate an inflationary spiral that would be costly to reverse and only prolong the problem.
So this brings us back to a choice between financial stability and financial integration. Clearly, the ECB is very nervous about risking financial stability in the core and is willing to jettison the financial integration of the periphery in exchange.
But this option has not worked because financial markets do not believe that the peripheral countries can bear all of their debt and they refuse to participate in financing a recovery.
The potential costs of default are being passed between European governments, the markets and the ECB and all three are trying to avoid being caught holding them.
This dangerous game has recently led to a set of threats and counter-threats that could undermine the very financial stability that everybody wants. There are a lot of people shouting "fire" in a crowded European theatre.
The central dilemma is this: losses incurred in the euro zone -- either through bank loans or wasteful government expenditure -- are too big to concentrate on the periphery and too risky to spread into the core.
This cannot be resolved by giving new loans to the affected countries -- by heaping debt upon debt -- because it is a problem of solvency, not of liquidity. The resolution of a solvency problem requires a transfer of real resources.
The ECB would like to resolve this dilemma through fiscal transfers from the core to the periphery, but let's face it, there is little appetite for more political union in the eurozone at present.
If anything, there is growing resentment at the current degree of fiscal union.
But before even contemplating greater fiscal union, it would be reasonable to regard the euro system of central banks as a common resource for the eurozone. And here is where the gold reserves lie.
While it would be too risky to cash in all of the €305bn in profits at once -- especially when they relate to the price of a volatile market commodity like gold -- it would not take a great deal of financial ingenuity to use some of these profits in a plan to save the euro, either to help directly in reducing the debt burden on the periphery or to establish a financial buffer to protect the banks in the core from a debt restructuring.
Remember that to date the total amount of resources dedicated to the three crisis countries has been €273bn.
Therefore, a once-off transfer of even one-third of the profits on gold would make a significant contribution to the resolution of the problem -- and this is without having to change any fiscal arrangements in the eurozone.
These are drastic times and they call for drastic measures.
Gary O'Callaghan is professor of economics at Dubrovnik International University. He was a member of the staff of the IMF and has advised numerous governments on macro-economic policies.