Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Draghi alone cannot save the euro
September 11, 2012
Last week’s decision by the European Central Bank to make unlimited purchases of government bonds in secondary markets was both necessary and bold. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, deserves credit for having obtained agreement for this controversial step, against the sole, albeit significant, opposition of Jens Weidmann, president of Germany’s redoubtable Bundesbank. It is a pity that the ECB did not do this before the crisis in sovereign debt reached Spain and Italy. Yet this delay is not surprising: eurozone policy makers have, perhaps inevitably, done too little, too late.
It is not the ECB’s fault that this action is too little. Its aim is to eliminate the risk of a eurozone breakup forced by the markets. But it cannot achieve this on its own. Ensuring the survival of the eurozone is a political decision. The ECB can only influence, not determine, the outcome.
The rationale offered for the programme of “Outright Monetary Transactions” is ingenious. The ECB insists that it does not aim to finance governments in difficulty. That, it insists, is a mere byproduct. At last week’s press conference, Mr Draghi stated that: “We aim to preserve the singleness of our monetary policy and to ensure the proper transmission of our policy stance to the real economy throughout the area. OMTs will enable us to address severe distortions in government bond markets which originate from, in particular, unfounded fears on the part of investors of the reversibility of the euro.” In making this case, Mr Draghi argued that “you have large parts of the euro area in what we call a ‘bad equilibrium’ ... So, there is a case for intervening ... to “break” these expectations, which ... do not concern only the specific countries, but the euro area as a whole. And this would justify the intervention of the central bank”. This then marks belated acceptance of strong arguments made by the Belgian economist, Paul de Grauwe, at the London School of Economics.