Tag Archives: Euro

How to Save the Eurozone in Few Easy Steps

The eurozone is in grave danger, and something must be done, fast. This is the message I get from various corners of the EU commentariat. Economists are particularly pessimistic. But the immediacy of the crisis is something relative – I’ve heard many macabre predictions many times during the last two years.

So I am more interested in the possible impact of the crisis on the future of the European Union. This may sound like an “unknown unknown”, but to my opinion trying to solve the eurozone crisis without taking into account the impact on the EU institutions and the integration project is useless. So let’s see what the options are.

1. Monetization of debt

The excessive debt of peripheral eurozone countries can simply be monetized by the ECB by using the proverbial printing press. The downsides are clear: the threat of moral hazard and inflation. Moral hazard means that once the ECB starts to monetize debts, every eurozone Member State can point to this precedent and demand equal treatment (i.e. more printing of euros to cover unsustainable debt). This leads to the second danger – elevated inflation, although some claim that this is not very likely due to the recession. If monetization happens, it will obviously be accompanied with a form of fiscal union, because there will have to be very strong guarantees against fiscal profligacy. In the short to medium term this approach can save the eurozone, and the European project as a whole. The problems with this approach are twofold: first, it may lead to unsustainable EU fiscal institutions if Germany and other northern Member States push too hard in their desire to guarantee fiscal discipline; second, in the long term this may also mean that peripheral Member States will become even more uncompetitive if again Germany and other northern Member States fail to reform their economies and stimulate internal demand.

In conclusion this approach may lead to long-term mutations that may transform the European Union into an undemocratic and unjust sovereign. On the good side, it saves us from immediate harm.

2. Credit crunch and disintegration of the eurozone

If the ECB does not monetize peripheral eurozone debt, then we may expect consecutive bank runs, asset sell-offs and overall economic misery in the eurozone periphery. This misery will probably be contagious, spilling over to the eurozone core, the US, Japan, China, and all over the world. Sooner, rather than later, the eurozone periphery will reintroduce capital controls and will effectively pull out of the eurozone. The economic and social consequences cannot be reliably foreseen, but will be very damaging to the global economy. Politically, the EU may disappear.

3. The way forward

It is quite obvious that the eurozone core must be convinced to monetize peripheral debt. This solution will be very difficult to achieve, but it serves all interests. However, it must be done carefully in order to protect the European project from excessive German influence that may in the long term transform the EU into some ugly mutant. The peer pressure of G20, and the US in particular, will be instrumental in achieving this difficult victory over petty short-term interests.


Dear Germany, You Are Deciding the Future of Europe

Dear Germany,

The last two decades were very good for you. You were able to unify your divided territory and your people. You had your fair deal of growth and expansion of trade. You began to “normalize”, as experts say.

Today you have to solve a great problem. It is up to you to decide whether the eurozone project lives or dies. I will not go into the details of the problem and the possible solutions. In any case you know very well what is at stake and what the options really are.

But why should you choose to save the euro? Well, two reasons spring to mind. First, a breakup of the eurozone will be very messy and will likely hurt your banks, pension funds and ultimately – your own citizens. The breakup will negate some of the important benefits of the internal European market and will cause widespread economic troubles around the whole world.

Second, killing the euro will go against your own obligations. When you founded the eurozone you also agreed that any amendment of the rules of the EMU will go through an amendment of the Treaties. That means that countries such as France and Belgium must explicitly agree to the eurozone breakup, and I sincerely doubt that they would. So in case you want to print Deutsche Marks again, you will have to infringe the Treaties in a very blatant way.

If the internal political pressure is really high you might probably risk and do it. But going against the founding principles of the European Union will have a very high price for you. One of the reasons for the unification back in 1990 was that you were securely integrated in the European Community. Yes, you are very different now and yes, you are rightly demanding a stronger voice in the world affairs. But still – there are ambiguous feelings in Europe about a strong and expansionistic German economy, especially if combined with a rapprochement with Russia. You need to think carefully about those considerations.

Whatever you decide to do, I would strongly advise talking sincerely with your own people. Cheap propaganda about the lazy Greeks may sell the newspapers, but we’re not talking about entertainment here. Your choices will define the future of all European citizens, and that means Germans as well. The European Union will never be the same after the breakup of the eurozone, and you will not enjoy the position that you have now.

Please think carefully before making your decision. The world will not end with the euro, but it will be an uglier place.

Best regards,

Vihar Georgiev



Trichet States the Obvious

The President of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, has called for a “quasi-budget federation” in front of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. The “f” word, however, is ominously missing from the EP’s press release. Mr. Trichet went on to say that “pundits are tending to underestimate the determination of [EU] governments”.

The determination of EU to rescue the euro notwithstanding, things continue to look bad. The interest rate spread between Italian bonds and benchmark German Bunds have come to a euro-lifetime high. Belgian 10-year bonds spread to German bunds of similar maturity widened to the highest levels since at least 1993. In other words, markets are not buying the “determination” stunt, at least for now.

Hence Mr. Trichet’s comments. He is quite aware that in the long term the current institutional framework of the eurozone is NOT sustainable. Even if the ECB manages to calm the markets for the moment (which is by no means certain), new, more powerful crises may follow in the next decade, vastly undermining economic growth in the whole European Union.

So Mr. Trichet is doing two things. First, he is trying to calm the markets, which is a very sensible thing to do. Second, he is telling European politicians that the complacency on the eurozone institutional framework is no longer possible and discussions must start now. Now the question is are they listening?



The Existential Crisis of the Euro – Where Did We Go Wrong?

The German government is on the forefront of an attempt to restrict the volatility of the euro exchange rate. First, the German financial regulator BaFin placed a unilateral ban on naked short-selling of eurozone sovereign debt instruments, with little effect. Second, Angela Merkel proposed a comprehensive reform of the stability and growth pact, with tougher rules of the game aiming to achieve one thing in particular: that member states bear the responsibility for a solid budget management. Third, Germany is hosting an international conference on financial market regulation in Berlin.

So far, so good. The markets, however, are not impressed. In fact, some analysts say that the euro may fall below parity with the dollar in the first quarter of 2011. The problem is that the decline in the euro may hurt demand for the region’s sovereign bonds in the year when new debt will be soaring.

The President of the eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, says that foreign-exchange intervention isn’t an urgent issue.

One leg of the problem according to Proffessor Michel Aglietta, is that we have a solvency problem with Greece, not a liquidity problem. He says that the austerity program for Greece is a ticking bomb that could cost dearly to the whole European Union. He advocates for immediate restructuring of the Greek debt. He also says that the eurozone will not survive without a system for budgetary transfers among eurozone members. according to him the private sector is not capable to compensate for the draconian austerity measures in Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy.

Jan Kregel and Rob Parenteau outline the key aspects of the eurozone predicament using the financial balance approach developed by Wynne Godley. They say that the current attempt at “budgetary discipline” in peripheral eurozone members will lead to fiscal retrenchment, private income deflation, and rising private debt distress. They warn that IMF conditionality is bound to set off the twin contagion vectors of falling trade surpluses and rising bank loan losses in the core nations.

I am not an economist. But these warnings against the current EU approach towards the eurozone crisis come from too many places (for alternative ideas see Peter Bofinger and Stefan Ried, Avinash Persaud, and Paul De Grauwe). This issue is way too serious to be decided upon in a hurry.

The Euro Crisis: Come What May

The eurozone crisis caused by the Greek debt problems is now taking a significant turn.The ECOFIN Council agreed on the creation of a European Financial Stabilisation mechanism with a total volume of up to € 500 billion and €250 billion from the IMF. The facility will be organised in two schemes.

The first will fall under Art. 122, para. 2 TFEU and will amount to €60bn. Its activation is subject to strong conditionality, in the context of a joint EU/IMF support. The second part will be based on an intergovernmental basis among eurozone members although Sweden and Poland have volunteered to take part, and will amount to up to €440 billion. It will be organized as a Special Purpose Vehicle on a pro rata basis by participating Member States in a coordinated manner and that will expire after three years.

Meanwhile the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank (ECB), the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are announcing the re-establishment of temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap facilities. The ECB also decided to conduct interventions in the euro area public and private debt securities markets to ensure depth and liquidity in those market segments which it believes are currently dysfunctional.

Bloomberg quotes Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit Group in London, saying that the measures should be more than sufficient to stabilize markets in the near term, prevent panic and contain the risk of contagion.

A strong statement by Olli Rehn: “We shall defend the euro whatever it takes”.

But how is this going to work out in reality? We don’t know yet.

European Council Gives Moral Support to Greece

The informal European Council has fully supported the efforts of the Greek government and their commitment to do whatever is necessary to tackle its fiscal crisis. The eurozone Member states have said that they will take determined and coordinated action, if needed, to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole.

However, the declaration lacks any detail whatsoever.

Financial Times has a good round-up of press reactions throughout Europe.