Sunday, April 24, 2011

The eurozone’s quack solutions will be no cure

by Wolfgang Münchau

Financial Times

April 24, 2011

I was uncharacteristically optimistic last week, and had planned to end my informal series on eurozone crisis resolution with a benign scenario. The eurozone would survive in one piece; there would be no blood on the streets, just a once-and-for-all, albeit reluctant, bail-out, accompanied by a limited fiscal union. But as several readers have pointed out, my scenario is prone to a very large accident. I accept that point. Last week, we caught a glimpse of how such an accident may come about. My benign scenario looks a lot less certain today than it did a week ago.

The week began with the strong showing of two parties in the Finnish election, which are advocating a partial Portuguese debt default as a condition for a rescue package. The results triggered a renewed outbreak of the financial crisis, as eurozone spreads rose to near record levels once again.

The most disturbing news, however, was a revolt within Angela Merkel’s increasingly fragile coalition. It looks as though the German chancellor is on the verge of losing her majority over the domestic legislation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the long-term financial umbrella for the eurozone. She may have to rely on the opposition to ratify the ESM, which may come at a heavy political cost. The Bundestag already postponed the vote on the ESM until the autumn, hoping to keep it clear from the controversial decision to pass the Portuguese rescue programme in May.

As opposition to the ESM mounted, German officials fell over themselves to be quoted by various newspapers pronouncing that a Greek restructuring was inevitable. Even Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, talked about the possibility of default. Some wily speculators unleashed the rumour that Greece would spring a surprise debt restructuring. The rumours prompted a criminal investigation. Another week in the eurozone’s debt crisis!


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