Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Europe should choose whether it wants Greece in or out

by Jean Pisani-Ferry

Financial Times

August 22, 2012

For the third time in three years the Europeans’ stance on Greece is economically inconsistent.

The first time was in 2009-2010 after then prime minister George Papandreou indicated that he would need to file for assistance from the International Monetary Fund. The European response was to reject the principle of IMF intervention while not offering an alternative to it. It took several months until an agreement was found, in May 2010, to combine European and IMF conditional support.

The second time was in 2010-2011 when Greece’s solvency became the urgent issue at hand. Two camps emerged. One advocated swift debt restructuring, emphasising that Greece was a unique case and that markets could be convinced that no other European country would follow suit. The other one stressed the adverse spill-over effects of a default and favoured keeping Athens afloat through cheap loans. The compromise was to lend at penalty rates while letting markets expect that restructuring would perhaps come, but at a later date. Each of the two positions was internally consistent but the compromise was not. It took more than a year, until the second half of 2011, to recognise this contradiction.

The third time is now. Again, Europe is divided. One camp, well represented in northern Europe, considers that Greece should leave the eurozone because it is not fit for purpose either economically or politically. This view is actually held by both eurosceptics (who want to demonstrate that exit is possible) and europhiles (who hope to win over opposition to further integration). The latter camp, more vocal in France and southern Europe, is adamant that the integrity of the eurozone must be preserved, because Greece’s departure would have adverse contagion effects on other southern countries.


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