Tag Archives: Greece

Of Eurozone Mice and Eurozone Men

This week was tumultuous for the eurozone, in a string of equally tumultuous weeks that preceded it. The Greek Prime Minister proposed a referendum for the new bailout package for Greece, was promptly scolded by his fellow eurozone leaders at the G20 summit, and had to arrange his exodus from the scene. Meanwhile Italy panicked and started redesigning its own austerity programme.

What all this reveals is a new incursion into political entrepreneurship, mainly by the leaders of France and Germany, to somehow solve this crisis. This is also a sign of failure of the European governance mechanism that simply does not withstand the political pressure.

The leaders of the main EU institutions play only supporting roles in this spectacle. The governments of the Member States, aided by the IMF, are once again trying to pull themselves by their own hair.

The crisis of European political leadership notwithstanding, we are experiencing the incapability of the institutional mechanism of the European Union to deliver in this difficult moment. Important decisions are taken outside the multilateral decision-making track. This brings more instability to the system and delegitimizes the decision taken. One of the reasons is the blatant disregard for European Union law.

During the dinner in Cannes Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy reportedly asked Mr. Papandreou whether Greece wants to stay in the eurozone or not. The problem of this question is that it has not been discussed with all 26 Member states other than Greece, and to my knowledge it would take all these 26 Member states AND Greece in order to decide on its exit from the eurozone. In other words the political entrepreneurship has neglected the very structure and substance of EU law, hiding behind the veil of urgency. Urgently taken decisions often are bad decisions, though. The European Union is much more than its currency and no economic crisis of any proportion should be used as a tool to destroy what has already been built.

While we, Europeans, remain surprisingly short-sighted, our American allies have already noticed and evaluated the huge importance of our weakness. Perhaps it is time to start thinking strategically and stop shooting in the dark.

 

 

Commission Proposes Increase of EU Funds Co-Financing for Six Countires

The European Commission has proposed to increase the co-financing rates for the EU funds for six EU countries that have been affected by the crisis.

Under the proposal, six countries would be asked to contribute less to projects that they currently co-finance with the European Union. The supplementary EU co financing is designated for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Latvia and Hungary.

The measure does not represent new or additional funding but it allows an earlier reimbursement of funds already committed under EU cohesion policy, rural development and fisheries. The EU contribution would be increased to a maximum of 95% if requested by a Member State concerned. This should be accompanied by a prioritisation of projects focusing on growth and employment, such as retraining workers, setting up business clusters or investing in transport infrastructure. In this way level of execution can be increased, absorption augmented and extra money injected into the economy faster.

It concerns Member States that have been most affected by the crisis and have received financial support under a programme from the Balance of Payments mechanism for countries not in the Euro area (Romania, Latvia and Hungary) or from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism for countries in the Euro area (Greece, Ireland and Portugal). Bulgaria is not included in this scheme.

 

 

The Second Greek Bailout: the Details

The leaders of the eurozone have approved the second bailout of Greece that is supposed to finally overcome the debt crisis in this country. The total official financing will amount to an estimated 109 billion euro. The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will be used, but the maturity of the loans will be extended from the current 7.5 years to a minimum of 15 years and up to 30 years with a grace period of 10 years. Lending rates will be around 3,5%, close to the costs of borrowing for the EFSF. The maturities of existing loans from the first Greek bailout will be extended. The private sector will contribute with up to 37 billion euro. Financial institutions will be offered a set of optional forms of contribution, including the buy-back of Greek debt, the extension of bond maturities and the rollover of existing debts. Greek banks will be recapitalized “if needed”.

The EFSF and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be allowed to:

  • act on the basis of a precautionary programme;
  • finance recapitalisation of financial institutions through loans to governments including in non programme countries ;
  • intervene in the secondary markets on the basis of an ECB analysis recognizing the existence of exceptional financial market circumstances and risks to financial stability.

The EFSF lending rates and maturities for Greece will also be applied for Portugal and Ireland.

So will the new bailout be effective? It’s hard to say. The economic commentators are somewhat sceptical. Felix Salmon notes that this deal is not enough on its own to bring Greece into solvency. He believes that this is not a one-off event and that the same instruments will have to be used for Portugal and/or Ireland.

It’s clear that the deal will alleviate fears for a financial meltdown in the eurozone. However, the deal does not efficiently address the growth problem for Greece (and by extension for Portugal, Ireland, Spain, etc.). The fundamental problem of the eurozone persists. Until we manage macroeconomic imbalances and structural impediments to growth, we will not be able to overcome the reasons for the current debt crisis.

 

 

The Old New Idea for a Political Union – Misunderstood?

The Greek financial crisis now threatens the whole eurozone. It appears that without substantial debt restructuring Greece is likely to default, and would have to leave the eurozone. This could lead, however, to substantial collateral damage and unintended effects for the whole European banking and financial system. The other option is a very large fiscal transfer from the eurozone core. This second option will lead donor Member States to demand substantial political guarantees for fiscal discipline in Greece and other possible recipients (i.e. Ireland and Portugal).

It looks like the crisis has brought back the idea for a true European political union on the table. The president of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, himself has called for the establishment of a European financial minister.

Now, the idea is not really new. Back in the 1950s there was such a project, called the European Political Community (EPC) that aimed to politically unite the Member States in the European Economic Community (read more about it in the excellent paper by Berthold Rittberger). The main institutional innovation in the EPC was the central role of the bicameral parliamentary body in adopting the budget and the legislation. The EPC project failed, but some of its ideas were later implemented by including the European Parliament in the legislative and budgetary procedures.

Going back to Mr. Trichet’s ideas, we see something completely different. In his framework, the Council would act on the basis of a proposal by the Commission, in liaison with the ECB, to take some measures directly affecting the economy of the Member State that has not implemented its fiscal stability program. There is no role for the European Parliament whatsoever. Apparently Mr. Trichet believes that the very agreement on a stability program is substantial legitimation for a direct involvement in the economic and fiscal policies of a Member State by the Council.

This is quite doubtful. It’s very difficult to imagine how the same people that violently oppose to austerity measures taken by their democratically elected governments will somehow accept direct interference by an institution of the European Union. It’s equally difficult to imagine that the European Parliament will approve such an institutional framework. I can certainly understand the reasonable motives for proposing such a second stage of austerity enforcement, but I’m afraid that such a procedure will decisively worsen the democratic deficit of the European Union.

If and when the governments of the Member States decide that a more profound Treaty revision is needed for establishing tighter fiscal coordination, they will have to consult their national parliaments and the European Parliament. Such consultations are in fact inevitable, since TEU requires the summoning of a Convention to adopt the draft text of the revision (art. 48, para. 2-5 TEU).

 

 

Who is the New Greece?

New clouds are gathering over the eurozone.

Ireland has turned to the European Commission to seek support for its revised budget-cutting plan. Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, is going to Dublin to discuss the new Irish budget cuts, amounting to 3.6 percent of GDP. The move aims at convincing the bond investors that are currently reluctant to buy Irish bonds. The word “bailout” hangs in the air.

Portugal plans a 5 percent cut of public sector wages and an increase in value-added tax (VAT) by 2 percentage points to 23 percent. Greece’s austerity plan is not working as planned, as budget revenue has grown below expectations.

On top of this the US has, with its second wave of quantitative easing (QE2), practically cornered the eurozone. QE2 should bring new upward pressure on the euro, further undercutting the competitiveness of eurozone exports.

All this tell us that the eurozone is still in serious trouble. Even if governments in the periphery manage to escape the bailout scenario for now, in the medium turn their position remains quite unsecure. That is why it’s worth reading the somewhat disruptive analysis of Samuel Brittan (free FT subscription required) on the imminent death of the euro. Mr. Brittan says that the current battle to save the euro resembles the unsuccessful struggle from 1961 to 1967 to stave off sterling devaluation. A cycle of rescues and new crises ultimately ends with acceptance of the inevitable.

Now, I have discussed the possible breakup of the euro before. This is a plausible scenario, but luckily not the only scenario. A breakup of the eurozone will deal a huge blow to the integration dynamic, and should be avoided. Hopefully all Member States understand that, but it remains to be seen whether key eurozone Member States act on this understanding.

Windless Weather for Enlargement?

There are reports that Slovenia is slowing down the accession negotiations with Croatia by preventing the chapter on freedom of movement of capitals from being closed, although Croatia has fulfilled all the necessary criteria. Macedonia’s name problems with Greece remain “in coma”.

That is why I read with great interest the report by Natasha Wunsch and Julian Rappold from DGAP about the EU accession of the Western Balkans. The authors outline two main reasons for the current enlargement fatigue: the early accession of Bulgaria and Romania, broadly viewed as a premature step, and the overwhelming focus on internal affairs that lets enlargement sink to the bottom of the list of priorities.

The authors warn that the slowing down of the accession process may lead to dangerous destabilization of the region. The economic consolidation in the region due to IMF intervention will be carried out at the cost of even the most necessary reforms. Social cuts also risk weakening the trust in the institutions. That is why according to the authors it is essential to mobilize all existing EU funds for the region and to facilitate their calling by the Western Balkan states.