Europe’s currency crisis – How to save the euro
The Economist’s Charlemagne weighs in:
A rescue must do four things fast. First, it must make clear which of Europe’s governments are deemed illiquid and which are insolvent, giving unlimited backing to the solvent governments but restructuring the debt of those that can never repay it. Second, it has to shore up Europe’s banks to ensure they can withstand a sovereign default. Third, it needs to shift the euro zone’s macroeconomic policy from its obsession with budget-cutting towards an agenda for growth. And finally, it must start the process of designing a new system to stop such a mess ever being created again.
German taxpayers might accept that the immediate costs of our rescue plan are smaller than break-up. But what they detest is the idea that it might let feckless Italians and Portuguese off the hook. Safe in the knowledge that the ECB stands behind their bonds, they may shy away from reform and rectitude.
Two risks flow from this. The immediate (and real) one is that furious Germans will demand that Greece is thrown out (or bullied out) of the euro to frighten the others. Such a horrific event would indeed scare Portugal and Ireland, but a threat to expel Italy or Spain is empty: they are too big and too tightly tied into the EU. Simply chucking out Greece because it was convenient would permanently undermine the security of small members of the EU. Besides, once Greece defaults and restructures, its economy stands a good chance of making a credible start on its long journey to economic health.
The longer-term risk has to do with “more Europe”. Fans of political integration say that the only way to enforce discipline is to create a United States of Europe (see Charlemagne). Perhaps a fiscal union that would supervise the issuance of common Eurobonds? Or a new supervisory role for euro-zone governments, or, heaven forbid, the useless European Parliament? Somewhere behind this also looms the idea that the ins will now be able to boss around the outs. The ten countries, including Sweden, Poland and Britain, that kept their own currencies may face a choice: to join the euro or be excluded from a new “core Europe”, which in effect starts setting policies. And, this being Europe, there is every chance that the politicians will try to avoid discussing a lot of this with their electorates.