Euro crisis: Back from the brink?

Well, perhaps…  Eurozone leaders emerged from their emergency summit yesterday offering a new €109billion bail-out for Greece with twice as long to pay it back [30 years] at a lower interest rate than before.  It’s a “restricted default event”, according to ratings agency Fitch.  The draft agreement in full is here [pdf file].

Ireland and Portugal get an interest rate cut too – Karl Whelan’s busy at Irish Economy calculating what it means for Ireland.  But the private sector involvement in Greece is, we’re told, “an exceptional and unique solution”.

As BBC economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, notes

On the question of private sector involvement, attention has understandably focussed on the default issue, and whether it is credible to simply assert that this will apply to “Greece and Greece alone”.

But when we stand back from the deal, I suspect the larger questions will be around the actual amount of debt relief that has been offered to Greece.

If the private sector is accepting a 21% reduction in the net present value of their Greek holdings, in exchange for longer term bonds from a country that is now able to service to its debt, that would be a pretty good deal for the banks. Right now the market discount on those bonds is more like 40%.

But that assumes that the deal has taken further Greek defaults off the agenda. I don’t think it has.

We need to see more details, but on the face of it, the deal has simply taken the Greek programme back into the realms of “just about plausible if everything goes right”.

And whilst the BBC may headline a boost in the stock markets, elsewhere reports are of a cooler response.

But it’s the wider political implications of what’s been agreed that is the real story.  As a largely positive Guardian editorial notes

Most of all, eurozone leaders have failed once again to make a democratic case for what they are proposing. The pot for eurozone bailouts, the European Financial Stability Facility, is set to balloon, representing a sizable claim on European taxpayers. Yet it was cooked up between Mr Sarkozy and Mrs Merkel and rammed through in a few hours at a summit – with no mention of a vote or accountability to electorates. This is Europe’s democratic deficit writ large.

And what of the “sweeping new powers” for the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)?  At the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the goal was to “go to the root of the problems”, but she may not find it easy to secure political assent for such sweeping concessions from her own parliament. The accord is a spectacular volte-face. Her mantra until now has always been that “collectivisation of risks” would be a grave error.

The terms overstep a resolution passed by the Bundestag limiting how far she could go in committing Germany to any form of transfer union or pooling of debts. The use of the EFSF as a fiscal fund without treaty authority further complicates a ruling by the German constitutional court on the legality of the bail-outs expected in September.

Such changes to the EFSF will require ratification by each of the national parliaments. It may require an amendment to the Treaties, greatly raising the bar in Germany.

It would seem that, faced with the stark options available to them, eurozone leaders have chosen to move towards even greater fiscal union.  As a result, Simon Jenkins in the Guardian is not happy.

“Ever closer union” was always a dangerous fantasy, a top-down imperialism forged in the over-fed minds of the cardinals of a pan-European faith. It thought it could deny political reality. Its hubris lay in a belief that somehow monetary union could leave national identity untouched, that a corrupt European parliament could offer democratic accountability enough. Now the good times are over, that accountability cannot validate the awful disciplines that must be imposed on debtor nations.

Vigorous domestic democracy is the one strength of Europe’s postwar states. Distant discipline will not wash. Ever closer union falls squarely into the historian Barbara Tuchman’s definition of a grand historical folly, “a policy demonstrably unworkable” and widely known as such at the time. It was a policy pursued by Europe’s leaders, like so many follies before, as “a love-child of power”.

The attempt to impose fiscal union on all Europe will bring its demise. But where Osborne and his brand of scepticism are wrong is in so obviously willing this demise. When monetary union reaches breaking point and unravels in an orgy of xenophobia, Britain will not be immune from the chaos. The pocket Napoleons who embarked on this venture may meet their Waterloo. But Britain’s economy is unlikely to escape the carnage.

And the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan has a few questions

In the UK too: there will have to be a Commons vote, and because of the legislation before Parliament even now, will there also have to be a referendum? Do these changes affect Britain enough to qualify? How will the Coalition fare under this new strain? George Parker has previewed the clash ahead here. If the Tories make plain that they now want a two-tier Europe, what do the Lib Dems do? What about those Tories who instinctively fear that a core Europe will have untold dire consequences for us? We are talking about abandoning a decades-old British belief in remaining at the heart of a one-tier fits all Europe. The FCO must be having a fit. What we need now is to hear from the Prime Minister what he believes: is this an opportunity to overhaul the terms of the deal?

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  • Greenflag

    When is a restricted default event not a default ? When it’s cobbled together at the last minute by the main Eurozone leaders in Berlin prior to the fait accompli being presented to the rest in Brussels .

    It’s a default and it kicks the can down the road till at least autumn most probably by which time the USA hopefully will have got it’s budgetary problems sorted and economic growth may resume at a better pace . Whats missing is ‘confidence ‘ in both the USA and the Eurozone and in the UK . This ‘default ‘ does however sned a warning shot across the bows of the bond markets in that they can’t redeem their bonds at the expected redemption dates which are now extended . This ‘fix’ is supposed to buy time for the French President to ‘survive’ the upcoming election and also for Merkel to weather the storm of domestic dissent . Most German voters want to see Greece out of the Eurozone which seems understandable from their viewpoint . The broader problem of such a default causing a domino of cascading German and French and other Eurozone banks has not registered with German voters who prefer the simplistic’ we’re good and you lot are a right shower of irresponsible gits’ thinking .

    What forced this agreement was the steadily growing nervousness around Spain and in particular the Italian situations . At a push relatively small economies like Greece , Portugal and Ireland can be bailed out but not Spain or Italy in particular the latter which is a 2 trillion dollar economy and the worlds tenth largest or to make the comparison more relevant about 10 times greater than Irelands.

  • Pete Baker


    “This ‘fix’ is supposed to buy time for the French President to ‘survive’ the upcoming election and also for Merkel to weather the storm of domestic dissent .”

    Sceptical, not cynical.

    And this is far from being designed to allow “Merkel to weather the storm of domestic dissent”.

  • Greenflag

    Pete , My understanding of what occurred in Berlin is that the French President had to have his arm twisted behind his back till his arm sockets ached before he finally yielded to the Kanzlerin’s demands . So it looks to me like Merkel got as much as she needed to weather it out till 2013 or thereabouts assuming of course that in the meantime there are no more frontal attacks by bond markets on the Eurozone which is probably given current world economic conditions an assumption too far.

    Sceptical and cynical and realistic -who knows anymore in this crazy messed up anarchic capitalism that has the gurus and experts and politicians everywhere looking for the way any way back to growth . And for those who are interested beyond the headlines there was an excellent article yesterday in the WSJ by a David Wessel which gave an overview of the conventional interpretations of why the economic ‘recovery ‘ in the USA has faltered and retreated and why . It seems the diagnosticians may have erred .

  • Pete Baker

    Your understanding of what occurred in Berlin?!


    Stick to your mis-interpretion of the problems in the US.

    But not on EU posts.

  • aquifer

    For the Euro to remain viable the Europeans only have to be more credible than the bankrupt USA.

    They have scared the bondholders into taking a ‘virtual’ harcut.

    So far so good.

    But now they need to inflate the debt away, and the Germans will hate that. But having paid for their own East and prospered they can probably manage that too, so long as they know that others are hurting more.

    And if the Europeans set up their own debt rating agencies that could be worth one or two base points off lending costs for everbody.

    US based rating agencies are not disinterested observers of international financial chaos. Chaos means higher interest rates and bonuses for the managers of the biggest lumps of the No1 reserve currency, the dollar. So predicting high returns and defaults is their stock in trade.

    Cameron’s vacuous boast that this is not costing UK taxpayers a thing should be recorded and dated, but he should also set up an English language rating agency to hedge his dodgy verbal bet..

    Politics punishes stupidity, but we cannot afford to let the Europeans screw this up.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Obviously the push is coming from Germany as it should, the collapse of the Euro would be an economic disaster for them as they are probably in a unique position world-wide as they benefit from both a very, very, strong economy yet get to trade with the rest of the world in a relatively week currency. The whole ethos of capitalism usually ensures you will have one or the other, depending on the state of your economy, but cannot have both.

    If the Euro collapsed and everyone went back to their own currency how much dearer would a Merc, Porsche, etc be in China, India, Russia, or anywhere else you care to mention? Thirty percent, fifty percent, maybe more, ……….double maybe?, in short it would be catastrophic for their exports and therefore soon after their whole economy.

    That having been said there is a limit to what they can do, and it must be rapidly approaching. The sums just don’t add up and no matter how long you work at it or try something different, 2+2 will never be equal anything other than 4.

  • Greenflag

    Indeed . In an uncertain monetary world the US dollar clings on as the reserve currency but if the USA defaults which is inconceivable but not impossible the current monetary chaos would reach the point at which a world wide banking ‘meltdown’would ensue with political ramifications of an order that could make the 1930’s look like the good old days . in 2011 it’s not just the USA and the European economies that would implode but those of the newly emerging economies also .

    The German’s abhorrence and fear of inflation goes back to the 1920’s when it’s middle classes were wiped out financially as their savings and pensions became worthless just at the time when they were attempting to become a ‘democracy’ following WWI and the end of their Empire. As the country recovered from the mid 1920’s on there was hope that the ‘democratic’ experiment would succeed . The 1929 Wall St crash had a disproportionate impact on the German economy and the nazis went from 2% of the vote in 1928 to over 30% by 1932 as millions became unemployed and both communism and national socialism became alternatives to ‘democratic ‘ anarchy . The rest as we know is history.

    ‘US based rating agencies are not disinterested observers of international financial chaos.’

    Not only disinterested some would say but stand to profit from the ensuing chaos . This was seen in the run up to the USA financial crisis in 2008 when major American financial institutions like Lehman Bros , Bank of America and AIG among others were ‘awarded ‘ Triple A plus ratings just days and weeks before they had to be saved from insolvency by the American taxpayer . It seems that the ‘ratings ‘agencies were being rewarded by the ‘big boys ‘ for their glowing reports as share prices went higher and the sub prime ponzi mountain grew ever larger . And of course the ‘regulators’ were also found to have been also in bed with the big boys of the financial world and not only took their hands off the regulatory wheels but closed their eyes and muffled their ears and gagged their mouths at the same time .

    Europeans should set up their own debt ratings agency . One would hope that such a move would bring greater transparency to the whole business of ‘rating agencies’ which in the USA have more than a touch of ‘secrecy ‘ about their operational methods and the exact criteria by which they ‘rate ‘ entire economies across the world and not just the USA . They can be seen as one of the side ‘benefits’ of the USA dollar being the world’s reserve currency .

    ‘Cameron’s vacuous boast that this is not costing UK taxpayers a thing should be recorded and dated’

    Vacuous boasts indeed and they will return to haunt the Tories at a future election/elections . I can’t see a solely British ratings agency taking off in this brave new global economy . A ratings agency based in a 67 million economy as opposed to those in a 310 million or 550 million economy ? Even a return of Ireland to the sterling area would be of little consequence in today’s world -other than for Ireland and the UK .

    ‘Politics punishes stupidity, ‘

    One would like to think that -not that it doesn’t happen it does but it’s inevitably after the damage is done and the ‘stupid ‘ ones have seen their ‘stupidity’ writ large in economic or political chaos leading to defeat in the polls .

    But not always > Anyone who looks closely at the American economic crisis and the ‘names ‘ of those prominently involved at the top of the economic policy making hierarchy should not fail to notice that the ‘names ‘ under the Bush presidency differ very little from those under the Obama presidency .And we know from the private financial services sector that those who piled up immense personal fortunes based on the ponzified fiat money scam that initiated this crisis are still largely in place . Not only were they not punished but they reaped even greater rewards for their ‘so called ‘ stupidity and some were even promoted 🙁

    ‘we cannot afford to let the Europeans screw this up.’

    I don’t know who you mean by ‘we’ . I would take it as a given that neither Ireland or the UK is in much of a position to influence the European decision -in Ireland’s case because of size and the current debacle -in the case of the UK because of their non Euro status . The world economy can’t afford a Euro implosion but neither can it do much to prevent one . Whether we like it or not the short and medium term future for the world economy is in Eurozone hands .

  • DC

    That having been said there is a limit to what they can do, and it must be rapidly approaching. The sums just don’t add up and no matter how long you work at it or try something different, 2+2 will never be equal anything other than 4.

    Tinkering at the edges is all that seems to have happened once again – the problem of Greece defaulting in the near future seems to have been solved, but only that of the near future.

    The edges have been blurred and as I was reading somewhere else the ‘tin can being kicked down the road’ has turned into a fluffy ball, but it is still being kicked down the road.

    The haircuts or haarschnitte are not that great – as the Guardian writes today:

    Bailout rescue: euphoria wanes as doubts emerge

    Strategist says new deal has not addressed underlying problems with Greek economy as markets see small gains

    Also – take Ireland, it is not as productive as Germany yet its wages remain high and the taoiseach or prime minister in anglo language is the highest paid PM in Europe – now how can this be right? The wages are too high in Ireland and in the long run this will not help it recover either, especially by paying such ridiculous wages to its PM and others in the public sector.

    Turkeys wont vote for Xmas the Irish PM will not slash his and his TD salaries, so once again rather than politicians taking decisive action themselves, the public will just have to stand back and watch the train wreck happen courtesy of the markets which will call time on this. Being in the euro seems to be money for nothing – for the time being – who would want to call time on this if you are involved in it – for instance the taoiseach, why bother calling time on your salary keep it going till the whole things crashes altogether, no?

    But how clever is it really to keep on calling on the taxpayers – the voters in the end – calling on them for money – which will be taken off them all the more the tin can is kicked even further down the road.

    I could be a politician in Europe – taking decisions to spend other people’s money to subsidise the banks and never being held to account for it directly – well on second thoughts not immediately, the time will come.

  • DC


    Turbo hyper-inflation for say two or three months would be good – of course I would be living on bread and milk for that time but if it could be controllled and then reduced for a short time to pay back these banks their loans – then so be it!

    Short term pain – long term gain.

    Surely it can’t be that simple..

  • Greenflag

    @ thethoughtfulone.

    Good post from a conventional economic standpoint and on the face of it sound enough reasoning at least in the short to medium term which is I suppose all that matters in the here and now of this mess.

    Your second paragraph however true short term does not seem to have been borne out by longer term economic trends . For those who are aware of -even hazily – the economic and monetary histories of both the UK and Germany since the 1970’s should know that having a strong currency is not necessarily the path to economic catastrophy that short termists frequently predict .

    Where is German manufacturing today in comparison to British and that despite several devaluations of the pound sterling in the 1970’s and the John Major/Norman Lamont fiasco with Soros in the 1990’s ? From the 1970’s to the introduction of the Euro the British pound went from 13 marks to the pound to 3 and yet today German car manufacturing and it’s medium size engineering businesses the so called MIttelstand continue to drive their exports whereas the Thatcher years all but erased that sector in the British economy in favour of services more particularly ‘financial services’.

    The ‘market ‘ for Porsches , Mercs etc in China , India , Russia , Brazil , Mexico will continue to expand as the numbers of ‘rich ‘ in these emerging economies grows at a much faster pace and in much greater absolute numbers than in Europe or the USA .

    Even in the event of a Euro collapse which would hurt the German economy in the short term the medium and longer term future for a German mark might not be at all catastrophic -in fact quite the opposite from a purely German standpoint . In the event of the smaller european countries such as Belgium , Netherlands , Austria and economies such as Poland , Czech Republic , Slovakia even Hungary returning to their own currencies it’s not inconceivable that these currencies would be tied into the German Mark much as the Irish pound was tied into sterling for decades . Given that much of the trade within Europe is generated within and through Germany and the Benelux zone and even Denmark and Finland and Sweden would be under pressure to become part of a new and multinational ‘Hanseatic ‘ economic ‘hard currency’zone .

    As for trade with the rest of the world -such a hard currency zone would be a magnet for ‘depositers’ from around the world concerned for security – a greater Switzerland minus the secrecy . Such a trading ’empire ‘ would be in a position to ‘lend ‘ cheaply to foreign buyers of their products -industrial machinery etc much like the earlier British Empire did in the 19th century and earlier when Britain dominated world trade and held captive markets in their overseas colonies and markets .

    The ‘politics’ of the above I haven’t mentioned as the scenario is conjectural enough as it is .

    ‘That having been said there is a limit to what they can do, and it must be rapidly approaching. ‘

    True and that limit is clearly seen as either Spain or Italy or certainly both having to be ‘rescued’ by the Berlin/Paris/Frankfurt axis .

    ‘The sums just don’t add up and no matter how long you work at it or try something different, 2+2 will never be equal anything other than 4.’

    True the sums don’t add up but then they did’nt add up either for those who fabricated their way to immense dollar fortunes on the back of speculation and paper fiat money either at the end of the day -except of course in their own bank accounts for which the rest of the world’s taxpayers have been gouged .

    What one has to remember and it has been pointed out here on slugger by some of the less conventional commentators i.e those who focus on what’s called the ‘real economy’ of people and actual tangible products such as food and cars and housing etc -is that in extremis .i.e when everything falls apart the wealth of a country does not lie in it’s paper currency or in it’s gold holdings or in it’s housing stock or fixed assets . All of these can be built up again as witnessed from German and Japanese and British recoveries from devastating wars in the last century .

    What matters most is the skills and education and abilities of a people to build anew and the leadership skills of their politicians and businessmen AND their country’s prior history of economic development . What is seen as having been possible once is also seen as becoming possible again -In short confidence in the/a future as good or better than the past . And that ‘confidence’ is what’s missing in the USA , Eurozone , UK and indeed Ireland today.

  • DC

    In short confidence in the/a future as good or better than the past . And that ‘confidence’ is what’s missing in the USA , Eurozone , UK and indeed Ireland today.

    That’s because China and India are doing the same for less in terms of having skills and qualities to survive successfully in a globalised market economy.

    Power is nothing without control – China is more authoritarian and wouldn’t let these shysters in the banking industry walk away neoliberal style with billions in their personal accounts, especially just after ruining the economy through taxpayer bailouts to subsidise the banks they have just bankrupted!

  • Greenflag


    ‘no matter how long you work at it or try something different, 2+2 will never be equal anything other than 4.’’

    You might think that but in the world of overleveraged banks, CDO’s and various other tools /weapons of mass destruction (Warren Buffett) not only can one make 2 and 2 become more than 4 but you can turn 1 into 25 (see some of Alias’es posts for leverage numbers of various banks) then double down the 25 on risky investments -see them turn into mush or make a killing and if you lose the entire investment you can go back to the taxpayer and get your money back after a job promotion of course for your eh ‘expert ‘ money management and investment expertise . You could call this ‘capitalism ‘ of course -I prefer to call it theft .

  • Greenflag

    @DC ,

    ‘China is more authoritarian and wouldn’t let these shysters in the banking industry walk away neoliberal style ‘

    There was a time when China executed people ofr displaying ‘capitalistic ‘ tendencies -but now that China has become a one party authoritarian capitalist state -there has been a ‘softening ‘ of standards . Can’t afford to upset trading partners like the USA & EU for now anyway . But thye still execute any high profile ‘shysters’ such as that milk producer a year or so back who was loading his powdered milk production with materials which were seen to have caused the death of many new borns .

    The former Edsel Corporation in the USA got away with causing the deaths by lead poisoning for decades of hundreds of it’s employees until finally in the 1990’s the USA government (20 years after the EU passed into law legislation which prevented USA canned food producers from using lead solder in their canning processes. BTW none of the Edsel bosses were ever executed or even brought to trial -ditto for those in Phillip Morris today who have now focused instead on killing millions of Chinese instead of millions of Americans and Europeans with the little white cancer sticks 🙁

    The Chinese government has not placed any restrictions on it’s own domestic cancer stick producers . Three million deaths a year from tobacco product usage is not enough to eh move them -no time you see with all that 10% growth 🙁

  • “In the event of the smaller european countries such as Belgium , Netherlands , Austria and economies such as Poland , Czech Republic , Slovakia even Hungary returning to their own currencies it’s not inconceivable that these currencies would be tied into the German Mark much as the Irish pound was tied into sterling for decades .”

    Erm, Greenflag: Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary aren’t in the Euro. Neither are Denmark and Sweden.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear, I don’t believe that having to go their own way would immediately be bad for Germany, I don’t doubt for a second that Germany’s currency (whatever it may be called) would be the strongest by far of the ex-eurozone members. But I can’t see that having this strong currency could be anything other than detrimental to their export market.

    Yes, the super-rich will be totally unaffected and will continue to purchase the high spec big ticket products entirely as before but at the lower end there are lots of ordinary working/middle class people who will push themselves to the limit to have a new Beemer, Merc, Audi or whatever as a status symbol. Even in other areas, white goods, sports equipment, to name but two there are German goods which people aspire to and are prepared to stretch themselves to obtain. The people who actually CAN afford to buy them will probably still do so but the inevitable price increases that will accompany a stronger currency will simply push them out of the reach of many at the lower end of the scale. What about the massive order for Siemens rolling stock for the UK recently agreed, if that price is fixed and their currency strenghtens against stirling what will it do to the profitability of the order?

    All this having been said however we come back again to the fact that there is a limit to how much money Germany can afford to throw at the Euro (currency) crisis simply to preserve the current trading circumstances. You’d have to conclude that things will not be as rosey for Germany in the future whatever way it goes and THAT’S when things may start to be influenced by the political situation within Germany itself. Which of the two scenarios will be less palatable to the German electorate, throwing money at other countries who have got themselves into a mess through reckless (at best!) management of their own economy, money which we are now beginning to see may bring little or no return in future. Or take a bit of the pain from having their own (no doubt stronger) currency which may be compensated for longer term by a growth in other non-manufacturing industries, although any shift at all away from a manufacturing based economy would probably in itself be very unpopular, and let the rest sort themselves out.

    It’s a question the answer to which may ultimately decide the future of the euro!

  • Greenflag

    My mistake of the three only Slovakia is a current Eurozone member .

    The facts as of now are for Poland Euro membership is no longer the priority it was before the Greek crisis and the Hungarians were heading for membership but still have not yet met the budget deficit targets. The Czechs have long fingered their interest and are opposed to the concept . Estonia has applied . Denmark and Sweden have been long opposed to Eurozone membership as has the UK and aren’t they lucky -short term anyway .

    But the point re these smaller economies being drawn ever more into the core zone economies of Germany, France , Netherlands ,Belgium and Italy regardless of currency status still stands .

    My apologies for allowing the ‘conjecturing ‘ to overconjecture . My preference is of course for the Euro zone to survive and to draw in more members especially the UK and Sweden , and Denmark eventually and not for the European nations to revert to a kind of Napoleonic era domination by just one power -then France -now Germany .

    But before that ever happens the ECB/IMF and THE Federal reserve will have to stop trying to fill up the radiator at the top while continually poking holes in the radiator body below.:(

  • Greenflag

    @ thethoughtfulone ,

    As I said above in conventional economic theory and practice all other things being equal a country which devalues it’s currency as compared to it’s competition should gain in exports and reduce in imports and vice versa for countries which revalue their currencies upwards .

    But all other things are never equal and factors such as history, geography, climate , traditions , stage of economic development , locally sourced natural resources , industrial relations , class system , political history and even religion and culture all tweak the conventional theory that implies for countries in trouble that devaluation = good and revaluation = bad . In retrospect and taking a medium term view revaluation of the Mark was good for the West German economy and probably helped that economy the more easily ( not that it was easy ) to absorb the former East Germany 20 years ago.

    But I agree with you re there being a limit and with your final point re the scenario options . On that point it’s as well to remember that ‘manufacturing ‘ makes up some 25% of the German economy as compared to 11% in both the UK and USA . Here’s a view of how important that fact has been in the current world economic situation. The comparison is with USA ‘manufacturing ‘ today which almost seems like a rerun of a similar comparison that could have been made vis a vis the UK a generation ago .