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
- How do the latest proposals for fiscal harmonisation differ from the Stability and Growth Pact?
- How might a Keynesian criticise the agreement?
- What is the role of (a) the IMF and (b) the ECB in the agreement?
- Do you agree that the agreement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving the eurozone’s problems?
As European leaders gather for an emergency summit in Brussels to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, we consider the issues and possible solutions. In Part B we’ll consider the actual agreement.
There are three key short-term issues that the leaders are addressing.
1. The problem of Greek debt
With fears that the Greek debt crisis could spread to other eurozone countries, such as Italy and Spain, it is vital to have a solution to the unsustainability of Greek debt. Either banks must be willing to write off a proportion of Greek debt owed to them or governments must give a fiscal transfer to Greece to allow it to continue servicing the debt. Simply lending Greece even more provides no long-term solution as this will simply make the debt even harder to service. Writing off a given percentage of debt is known as a ‘haircut’. The haircut on offer before the summit was 21%. Leaders are reportedly considering increasing this to around 60%.
2. The size of the eurozone bailout fund
The bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), stood at €440 billion. This is considered totally inadequate to provide loans to Italy and Spain, should they need a bailout. France and other countries want the ECB to provide extra loans to the EFSF, to increase its funds to somewhere between €2 trillion and €3 trillion. Germany before the meeting was strongly against this, seeing it as undermining the rectitude of the ECB. A compromise would be for the EFSF to provide partial guarantees to investors and banks which are willing to lend more to countries in debt crisis.
3. Recapitalising various European banks
Several European banks are heavily exposed to sovereign debt in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. It is estimated that they would need to raise an extra €100 billion to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.
But there is the key longer-term issue as well.
Achieving long-term economic growth
Without economic growth, debt servicing becomes much more difficult. The austerity measures imposed on highly indebted countries amount to strongly contractionary fiscal policies, as government expenditure is cut and taxes are increased. But as the economies contract, so automatic fiscal stabilisers come into play. As incomes and expenditure decline, so people pay less income tax and less VAT and other expenditure taxes; as incomes decline and unemployment rises, so government welfare payments and payments of unemployment benefits increase. These compound public-sector deficits and bring the possibility of even stronger austerity measures. A downward spiral of decline and rising debt can occur.
The answer is more rapid growth. But how is that to be achieved when governments are trying to reduce debt? That is the hardest and ultimately the most important question.
Brussels summit: the main issues to be resolved The Telegraph (25/10/11)
EU crisis talks in limbo after crucial summit is cancelled The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (25/10/11)
Euro zone summit likely to give few numbers on crisis response Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (25/10/11)
Factbox: What EU leaders must decide at crisis summit Reuters (24/10/11)
Hopes low ahead of EU summit Euronews on YouTube (25/10/11)
Euro crisis: EU leaders hope to reach debt plan BBC News (26/10/11)
The deadline Europe cannot afford to miss BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (26/10/11)
Why EU summit is crunch day for the eurozone BBC News, Paul Mason (26/10/11)
Southern European banks need most capital BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (23/10/11)
Will Germany insure Italy against default? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (26/10/11)
Plan B for the eurozone? BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (26/10/11)
‘No such thing as Europe’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Martin Wolf (26/10/11)
Markets to eurozone: It’s the growth, stupid BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (24/10/11)
Fears euro summit could miss final deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Gerrit Wiesmann and Matt Steinglass (26/10/11)
Time to unleash financial firepower or face euro breakup Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/11)
The Business podcast: eurozone crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott, David Gow and Jill Treanor (25/10/11)
Why is Germany refusing to budge on the eurozone debt crisis? Guardian blogs, Phillip Inman (26/10/11)
- In terms of the three short-term problems identified above, compare alternative measures for dealing with each one.
- To what extent would the ECB creating enough money to recapitalise European banks be inflationary? On what factors does this depend?
- Does bailing out countries create a moral hazard? Explain.
- What possible ways are there of achieving economic growth while reducing countries sovereign debt?
- Would you agree that the problem facing eurozone countries at the moment is more of a political one than an economic one? Explain.
- What are the arguments for and against greater fiscal integration in the eurozone?