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Posts Tagged ‘fiscal union’

The need for fiscal integration in the eurozone

In a speech in Dublin on 28 January 2015, titled ‘Fortune favours the bold‘, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, compared the UK economy to that of the 19-nation eurozone. While he welcomed the ECB’s recently announced quantitative easing programme, he argued that the current construction of the eurozone is unfinished and still has two fundamental weaknesses that have not been addressed.

The first is the fragmented nature of banking:

With limited cross-border banking in the euro area, savings don’t flow to potential investments. Euro-area corporates’ cash balances have risen to the tune of €420 billion, or 3% of GDP, since the crisis, for example. Modest cross-border equity flows mean inadequate risk sharing.

The second is the lack of an integrated fiscal policy.

For complete solutions to both current and potential future problems, the sharing of fiscal risks is required.

It is no coincidence that effective currency unions tend to have centralised fiscal authorities whose spending is a sizeable share of GDP – averaging over a quarter of GDP for advanced countries outside the euro area.

… If the eurozone were a country, fiscal policy would be substantially more supportive. However, it is tighter than in the UK, even though Europe still lacks other effective risk sharing mechanisms and is relatively inflexible. A more constructive fiscal policy would help recycle surplus private savings and mitigate the tail risk of stagnation. It would also bridge the drag from structural reforms on nominal spending and would be consistent with the longer term direction of travel towards greater integration.

But fiscal integration requires a political will to transfer fiscal surpluses from the stronger countries, such as Germany, to the weaker countries, such as those in southern Europe.

Overall, the financial and fiscal position in the eurozone is strong:

Gross general government debt in the euro area is roughly the same as in the UK and below the average of advanced economies. The weighted average yield on 10-year euro area sovereign debt is around 1%, compared to 1½% in the UK. And yet, the euro area’s fiscal deficit is half that in the UK. Its structural deficit, according to the IMF, is less than one third as large.

But, unlike the UK, where, despite the rhetoric of austerity, automatic fiscal stabilisers have been allowed to work and the government has accepted a much slower than planned reduction in the deficit, in the eurozone fiscal policy remains tight. Yet unemployment, at 11½%, is twice the rate in the UK and economic growth, at around 0.7% is only one-quarter of that in the UK.

Without a eurozone-wide fiscal policy the problem of slow growth is likely to persist for some time. Monetary policy in the form of QE will help and structural reforms will help to stimulate potential output and long-term growth, but these policies could be much more effective if backed up by fiscal policy.

Whether they will be any time soon is a political question.

Speech
Fortune favours the bold Bank of England. Mark Carney (29/1/15)

Articles
Bank of England’s Carney urges Europe to take plunge on fiscal union Reuters, Padraic Halpin (28/1/15)
Bank Of England’s Mark Carney Attacks ‘Timid’ Eurozone Recovery Attempts Huffington Post, Jack Sommers (29/1/15)
BoE’s Mark Carney calls for common eurozone fiscal policies Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (28/1/15)
Carney attacks German austerity BBC News, Robert Peston (28/1/15)
Bank of England governor attacks eurozone austerity The Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/1/15)

Questions

  1. Compare the financial and fiscal positions of the UK and the eurozone.
  2. In what way is there a ‘debt trap’ in the eurozone?
  3. What did Mark Carney mean when he said, ‘Cross-border risk-sharing through the financial system has slid backwards.’?
  4. What options are there for the eurozone sharing fiscal risks?
  5. What would a ‘more constructive’ fiscal policy, as advocated by Mark Carney, look like?
  6. How do the fiscal policies of other currency unions, such as the UK (union of the four nations of the UK) or the USA (union of the 50 states) or Canada (union of the 10 provinces and three territories), differ from that of the eurozone?
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Rescue or sticking plaster?

Eurozone leaders met at a summit in Brussels on 28 and 29 June. Expectations ahead of the summit were low that any significant progress would be made on supporting eurozone banks and governments, on achieving more effective bank regulation or stimulating economic growth.

For once, EU leaders surprised markets by reaching a more comprehensive agreement than anticipated. The agreement has five key elements:

1. The use of funds from the soon-to-be launched eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to lend to banks directly. Previously, funds had been made available to national governments to lend to their banks. This, however, increased the debts of the national governments, such as Spain, which made it harder for them to meet deficit and debt targets.

2. The setting up of a new banking supervisory body to impose common standards, such as capital adequacy requirements, on banks across the eurozone.

3. The use of the eurozone bailout fund to buy government bonds on the secondary market, provided governments are sticking to agreed deficit reduction measures. This would help to reduce interest rates on government bonds in countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, currently having to pay interest rates 5 or 6 percentage points above those on German bonds.

4. A €120bn growth package to target EU money at small businesses, youth unemployment and infrastructure improvements. Most of the money would be from existing funds, such as EU Structural Funds, which are currently unused. There would be some additional funds, however, including €10bn to boost the lending capacity of the European Investment Bank.

5. A 10-year ‘roadmap’ towards greater fiscal union, including the creation of a eurozone treasury, which could limit overall spending by national governments.

Generally the agreement has been greeted positively, with stock markets in the eurozone and across the world rising significantly. But will the measures be enough to reassure investors over the coming weeks? Will they cure the problems of the eurozone or are they just one more, albeit larger, sticking plaster?

The following webcasts, podcasts and articles look at the agreement and the resulting prospects for the eurozone.

Webcasts and podcasts
Eurozone bends the rules to save single currency euronews (29/6/12)
Markets Like Euro Crisis Deal, Merkel Defensive Associated Press (29/6/12)
Eurozone crisis: ‘Breakthrough’ at summit BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (29/6/12)
EU summit outcome exceeds – low – expectations euronews (29/6/12)
Italy and Spain are main beneficiaries after EU summit euronews (30/6/12)
EU bank aid deal ‘better than expected, worse than needed’ euronews (29/6/12)
New eurozone deal ‘not enough’ BBC Today Programme, James Shugg (29/6/12)
Eurozone: ‘Massive concession’ from Angela Merkel BBC Today Programme, Gavin Hewitt and Robert Peston (29/6/12)

Articles
Eurozone bank bailout deal throws lifeline to Spain and Italy Guardian, Ian Traynor and Phillip Inman (29/6/12)
Spain lifeline after EU allows direct access to eurozone bailout funds Guardian (29/6/12)
Less disunion The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (29/6/12)
Eurozone agrees on bank recapitalisation BBC News (29/6/12)
Merkel defends compromise deal on eurozone banks BBC News (29/6/12)
A first, tentative step to salvation for the eurozone Independent, Leading article (29/6/12)
Analysis – Sharing a vision may be Europe’s biggest challenge Reuters, Alan Wheatley (3/7/12)
Eurozone bank agreement welcomed FT Adviser, Rebecca Clancy & Bradley Gerrard (2/7/12)
The real victor in Brussels was Merkel Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (1/7/12)
Finns, Dutch cast first doubt on EU summit deal EurActiv (3/7/12)
A Euro deal from Brussels BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (29/6/12)

Document
Conclusions of the European Council (28/29 June 2012) European Council (29/6/12)

Questions

  1. What are the advantages of the ESF lending to banks directly? Are there any problems associated with the proposal?
  2. To what extent will the measures solve the problems of the eurozone? What else might need to be done?
  3. Are there any potential moral hazards contained in the proposals and how are they likely to be tackled?
  4. Explain the concept of ‘seniority’ in the following statement: “the debt owed by Spain to the EFSF, if and when it is transferred to the ESM, will not gain seniority”. Why might this be good for private financiers?
  5. If governments’ bonds are to be purchased by the ESM, what conditions are likely to be attached?
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Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part D)

The meeting of EU leaders on night of Thursday/Friday 8/9 December was the latest in a succession of such meetings designed to solve the eurozone’s problems (see also, Part A, Part B and Part C in this series of posts from earlier this year).

Headlines in the British press have all been about David Cameron’s veto to a change in the Treaty of Lisbon, which sets the rules of the operation of the EU and its institutions. Given this veto, the 17 members of the eurozone and the remaining 9 non-eurozone members have agreed to proceed instead with inter-governmental agreements about tightening the rules governing the operation of the eurozone.

In this news item we are not looking at the politics of the UK’s veto or the implications for the relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU. Instead, we focus on what was agreed and whether it will provide the solution to the eurozone’s woes: to fiscal harmonisation; to stimulating economic growth; to bailing out severely indebted countries, such as Italy; and to recapitalising banks so as to protect them from sovereign debt problems and the private debt problems that are likely to rise as the eurozone heads for recession.

The rules on fiscal harmonisation represent a return to something very similar to the Stability and Growth Pact, but with automatic and tougher penalties built in for any country breaking the rules. What is more, eurozone member countries will have to submit their national budgets to the European Commission for approval.

The agreement has generally been well received – stock markets rose in eurozone countries on the Friday by around 2%. But the consensus of commentators is that whilst the agreement might prove a necessary condition for rescuing the euro, it will not be a sufficient condition. Expect a Part E (and more) to this series!

Meanwhile the following articles provide a selection of reactions from around the world to the latest agreement

EU leaders announce new fiscal agreement Southeast European Times, Svetla Dimitrova (9/12/11)
Eurozone crisis: What if the euro collapses? BBC News (9/12/11)
New European Treaty Won’t Solve Current Liquidity Crisis Huffington Post, Bonnie Kavoussi (9/12/11)
UK alone as EU agrees fiscal deal BBC News (9/12/11)
A good deal for the UK – or the euro? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (9/12/11)
European leaders strengthen firewall Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin and Alan Beattie (9/12/11)
EU leaders push for tough rules in new treaty DW-World, Bernd Riegert (9/12/11)
German Vision Prevails as Leaders Agree on Fiscal Pact The New York Times, Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle (9/12/11)
European Union leaders agree to forge new fiscal pact; Britain the only holdout The Washington Post, Anthony Faiola (9/12/11)
The new rules by EU leaders Irish Independent (10/12/11)
More uncertainty seen in wake of EU summit Deseret News (9/12/11)
EU president unveils raft of crisis-fighting measures The News (Pakistan) (10/12/11)
No rave reviews The Economist, Buttonwood (9/12/11)
Beware the Merkozy recipe The Economist (10/12/11)
Europe blunders into a blind, and dangerous, alley Guardian, Larry Elliott, (9/12/11)
As the dust settles, a cold new Europe with Germany in charge will emerge Guardian, Ian Traynor, (9/12/11)
Euro zone agreement only partial solution – IMF Reuters, Tova Cohen and Ari Rabinovitch (11/12/11)
Celebration Succumbs to Concern for Euro Zone New York Times, Liz Alderman (12/12/11)
In graphics: The eurozone’s crisis BBC News

Questions

  1. How do the latest proposals for fiscal harmonisation differ from the Stability and Growth Pact?
  2. How might a Keynesian criticise the agreement?
  3. What is the role of (a) the IMF and (b) the ECB in the agreement?
  4. Do you agree that the agreement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving the eurozone’s problems?
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Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part B)

At its meeting on 26 October, the eurozone countries agreed on a deal to tackle the three problems identified in Part A of this blog:

1. Making the Greek debt burden sustainable
2. Increasing the size of the eurozone bailout fund to persuade markets that there would be sufficient funding to support other eurozone countries which were having difficulties in servicing their debt.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.

The following were agreed:

1. Banks would be required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones. This swap will take place in January 2012. Note that Greek debt to other countries and the ECB would be unaffected and thus total Greek debt would be cut by considerably less than 50%.

2. The bailout fund (EFSF) would increase to between €1 trillion and €1.4 trillion, although this would be achieved not by direct contributions by Member States or the ECB, but by encouraging non-eurozone countries (such as China, Russia, India and Brazil) to buy eurozone debt in return for risk insurance. These purchases would the form the base on which the size of the fund could be multiplied (leveraged). There would also be backing from the IMF. Details would be firmed up in November.

3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults. About 70 banks will be required to raise an additional €106.4 billion by increasing their Tier 1 capital ratio by 9% by June 2012 (this compares with the Basel III requirement of 6% Tier 1 by 2015).

On the longer-term issue of closer fiscal union, the agreement was in favour of achieving this, along with tight constraints on the levels of government deficits and debt – a return to something akin to the Stability and Growth Pact.

On the issue of economic growth, whilst constraining sovereign debt may be an important element of a long-term growth strategy, the agreement has not got to grips with the short-term problem of a lack of aggregate demand – unless, of course, the relief in markets at seeing a solution to the debt problem may boost business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, may provide the boost to aggregate demand that has been sadly lacking over the past few months.

Certainly if the reaction of stock markets around the world are anything to go by, the recovery in confidence may be under way. The day following the agreement, the German stock market index, the Dax, rose by 6.3% and the French Cac index rose by 5.4%.

Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (27/10/11)
Leaders agree eurozone debt plan in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (27/10/11)
Eurozone agreement – the detail BBC News, Hugh Pym (27/10/11)
10 key questions on the eurozone bailout Citywire Money, Caelainn Barr (27/10/11)
European debt crisis: ‘Europe is going to have a very tough winter’ – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/10/11)
Eurozone crisis: banks agree 50% reduction on Greece’s debt Guardian, David Gow (27/10/11)
The euro deal: No big bazooka The Economist (29/10/11)
Europe’s rescue plan The Economist (29/10/11)
European banks given just eight months to raise €106bn The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (26/10/11)
EU reaches agreement on Greek bonds Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal and Alex Barker (27/10/11)
Unlike politicians, the markets are seeing sense Independent, Hamish McRae (27/10/11)
Market view: Eurozone rescue deal buys time FT Adviser, Michael Trudeau (27/10/11)
Greece vows to build on EU deal, people sceptical Reuters, Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn (27/10/11)
Markets boosted by eurozone deal Independent, Peter Cripps, Jamie Grierson (27/10/11)
Has Germany been prudent or short-sighted? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (27/10/11)
Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (27/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the key features of the deal reached in Brussels on 26 October?
  2. What details still need to be worked out?
  3. How will the EFSF be boosted some 4 or 5 times without extra contributions fron eurozone governments?
  4. Why, if banks are to take a 50% haircut on their holdings of Greek debt, will Greek debt fall only to 120% per cent by 2020 from just over 160% currently?
  5. On balance, is this a good deal?
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Rescuing Greece? Rescuing the euro?

With a mounting crisis in the eurozone, heads of government met in an emergency meeting in Brussels on 21 July.

The task was a massive one: how to tackle Greece’s growing debt crisis and stave off default; how to protect other highly indebted countries which have already had to seek emergency bailouts, namely Ireland and Portugal, from falling market confidence and thus rising interest rates, thereby making their debts harder to service; how to prevent speculative pressures extending like a contagion to other highly indebted countries, such as Spain and Italy; how to prevent speculation against the euro and even to prevent its break-up; how to reduce the size of budget deficits at a time of low growth without jeopardising that growth. A problem is that Greece has already adopted the required austerity measures for it to receive a second bailout from the EU agreed at the end of June, and yet its debt burden is likely to rise as growth remains negative.

Eurozone leaders recognised that the stakes were high. Failure could see contagion spread, interest rates soar and perhaps one or more countries leaving the euro. No agreement was not an option. As it turned out, the agreement was more comprehensive than most commentators had expected. Markets reacted positively. Stock markets in Europe and around the world rose and the euro strengthened.

So what was the agreement? Has it solved the Greek and eurozone crises? Will it prevent contagion? Or has it merely put the problem on hold for the time being? Will more fundamental measures have to be put in place, such as much fuller fiscal union, if the eurozone is to function as an effective single currency area? The following is a selection of the hundreds of articles worldwide that have reported on the summit and the agreement.

Greece thrown lifeline by eurozone leaders BBC News, Chris Morris (22/7/11)
A Marshall plan with ‘haircuts’: The draft agreement Guardian, Chris Morris (21/7/11)
Banks forced to share pain of bailout for Greece Independent, Sean O’Grady and Vanessa Mock (22/7/11)
EU leaders agree €109bn Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Quentin Peel, Patrick Jenkins and Richard Milne (21/7/11)
Greece to default as eurozone agrees €159bn bailout The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Bruno Waterfield (21/7/11)
Europe steps up to the plate The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (21/7/11)
Greek bailout boosts global markets Guardian, Julia Kollewe, Ian Traynor and Lisa O’Carroll (22/7/11)
Greek bailout deal: What the experts say Guardian (22/7/11)
Bailed out – again. Eurozone throws Greece €109bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (22/7/11)
New package for Greece must match last year’s if it is to stave off default Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Maiden (22/7/11)
Russian or Belgian roulette? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/7/11)
Saving the euro: A bit of breathing space The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (22/7/11)
Europe’s ‘safe haven’: corporate bonds Financial Times, Demetrio Salorio (21/7/11)
Summit that saved the euro? Financial Times, John Authers and Vincent Boland (21/7/11)
Greece aid package boosts stock markets BBC News (22/7/11)
Q&A: Greek debt crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Timeline: The unfolding eurozone crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Eurozone summit: It may be a solution, but doubts remain Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/7/11)
German taxpayers are being asked to socialise Europe’s debts The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (22/7/11)
The eurozone is not a nation state Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (20/7/11)
One step back from the abyss BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (22/7/11)
For long-term gain, the EU will have to share the pain Independent, Sean O’Grady (22/7/11)
Greek debt deal ‘not the last word’ BBC Today Progrgamme, Stephanie Flanders and Sir John Gieve (22/7/11)

Questions

  1. Outline the measures agreed at the eurozone heads of government summit on 21 July.
  2. Explain what is meant by a ‘haircut’ in the context of debts. What types of haircut were agreed at the summit?
  3. How big a reduction in Greece’s debt stock will result from the deal? Why may it not be enough?
  4. Explain how the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) works? How will this change as a result of the agreement?
  5. What vulnerabilities remain in the eurozone?
  6. What are the arguments for closer fiscal union in the eurozone? Is more required than merely a return to the Stability and Growth Pact?
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