Many of the problems facing the EU flowed from the institutional asymmetries in the political economies of its member states. Beneath the surface, however, the Euro crisis reflected some of the structural dilemmas of operating a single currency that encompassed multiple varieties of capitalism. The monetary union joined together states at different levels of political development and political economies structured in quite different ways.
Many of the problems facing the union flowed not from the asymmetric economic shocks that optimal currency theory anticipated, but rather from institutional asymmetries in the political economies of its member states. Some believed that the experience of competing within a monetary union would gradually erase these institutional asymmetries, but they have deep historical roots that do not yield easily to incremental reform. An elaborate system of vocational training operated by these producer groups and underpinned by works councils in large firms, gives German firms significant advantages in the production of high-quality and high value-added goods for which export demand is relatively stable.
Like its northern neighbors, Germany was institutionally well-equipped to operate an export-led growth strategy. Monetary union had different implications for these two types of political economies. Inside EMU, the countries of northern Europe could pursue their longstanding export-led growth strategies. Moreover, they now enjoyed new advantages because their neighbors could no longer devalue against them, while the variegated membership of the union held down the external exchange rate of the Euro.
As a result, the trade surpluses of northern Europe began to grow, in the case of Germany dramatically. However, entry into monetary union posed serious dilemmas for the countries of southern Europe. Under EMU, they lost this capacity for economic adjustment just when emerging economies began to eat into their market share for exports of low-cost goods. The alternative route to growth for these economies lay in the expansion of domestic demand. Entry into EMU rendered this strategy even more attractive because it lowered the cost of capital in southern Europe, as investors from the north sought sites in which to invest their growing trade surpluses.
However, the natural concomitant to a growth strategy led by domestic demand is wage and price inflation, which the one-size-fits-all monetary policies of the ECB could not contain without precipitating recession in northern Europe.
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As inflation reduced the real cost of capital, asset booms drew resources away from export sectors already struggling with rising prices for inputs. The Monetary Union encouraged unbalanced growth paths which favoured the expansion of exporters in the North. In short, one of the effects of monetary union was to encourage a set of unbalanced growth paths that saw the export sectors of northern Europe expand often at the expense of domestic consumption, while many export sectors in southern Europe languished alongside growing sheltered sectors, often dominated by construction.
To blame these outcomes on southern European governments, as some do, is to ignore ineradicable differences in the organization of the political economies and the ways in which they provide countries with different types of adjustment mechanisms. For the most part, southern European governments pursued the growth strategies most available to them and often with considerable success. Between and , Spain and Greece grew at rates close to 4 percent per year. More should have been done to dampen construction booms and ensure the solvency of the banks funding them, but to expect southern Europe to have emulated the growth strategies of the north is to misunderstand how export-led growth is achieved.
In the case of Greece, the structure of the polity was equally important to the origins of the crisis. Greek governments used flows of funds from the north to fund consumption rather than investment, often in order to shore up political support for the ruling party among public employees and pensioners.
Clientelism was a problem elsewhere in southern Europe, as it is in parts of the north, but in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, product market regulation was reduced as much or more during the early s as it was in most countries of northern Europe. The crisis of the Euro began in when international investors, already skittish as a result of the American banking crisis, lost confidence in the ability of European banks and sovereigns to repay their debts. The same herd instincts in the financial markets that had lowered the cost of capital in southern Europe suddenly raised its cost across much of the continent.
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In any circumstances, this would have been a difficult moment, but the single currency lacked any effective institutional mechanism for adjustment. Although the ECB gradually invented ways of providing emergency liquidity to banks under stress and finally restored confidence by announcing in mid that it was willing to buy sovereign debt on the secondary markets, initially, it was unable to purchase government bonds in order to stave off panic in sovereign debt markets.
A Eurozone built only on a minimalist set of rules had no centralized fiscal capacities of its own and limited abilities for decision-making, which depended on reaching unanimity among its member governments. In this context, the fact that European governments were eventually able to assemble rescue packages for the Greek, Irish, and Portuguese governments, as well as a credit line for Spanish banks, is a striking achievement, reflecting unprecedented levels of intergovernmental cooperation.
Paradoxically, however, the torturous process whereby that cooperation was secured put strains on the European system of governance that threaten the prospects for further European integration in the coming years.
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With the rescue, Germany was ensuring that loans made its own financial institutions would be repaid. The initial fateful choices concerned Greece, which was running out of money in and unable to borrow at affordable rates on international bond markets. Runaway public spending over the previous decade had fueled rapid rates of economic growth but taken public sector deficits and debt to dangerously high levels. Its partners in the Eurozone faced a choice. They could organize a restructuring that would see Greece default on much of its debt, perhaps accompanied by some financial support to ease the pain as the country moved toward a primary surplus.
Or, they could lend Greece the funds to continue making payments on its debt in return for promises of reform designed to bring the country back to fiscal stability. Neither option was an attractive prospect. In either case, the Greek people would suffer greatly as the government cut spending to eliminate a deficit worth 12 percent of its GDP. Prominent economists urged restructuring on the grounds that it was the best way to cope with a debt crisis and best done early.
Some argued that adjustment would be more successful if the country also left the Euro and devalued its currency rather than rely entirely on internal deflation to reduce real wages to internationally-competitive levels. Historians will long debate why this path was chosen over the default. Amidst the uncertain financial circumstances of , governments were clearly concerned about the possibility of contagion.
If a state within the single currency had defaulted, it might have become more difficult for other members to fund their national debts, including Italy, an economy too large to rescue. Moreover, the Greek default would have created serious problems for the European financial system, since large segments of Greek debt were held by northern European banks. If the other governments had not rescued Greece, they would likely have had to rescue some of their own banks.
These funds were granted only on stringent conditions specifying limits on fiscal deficits and structural reforms to liberalize various labor or product markets. At the insistence of the ECB, Ireland was prohibited from writing down the debt bondholders held in the failing Irish banks. The ostensible objective was to sustain confidence in European financial markets, but the effect was again to limit the penalties paid by the private sector for making risky loans and to transfer the costs of resolving the crisis onto the public sector.
Many commentators, especially in the northern European media, presented these bailout programs as acts of unprecedented largesse. Led by Germany, the north was said to have come to the rescue of the south, allowing indebted countries to avoid the perils of default. In hindsight, however, judgments about what happened must be more nuanced. Germany was sustaining a single currency that had been of benefit to its export sectors and was ensuring that loans made by its own financial institutions would be repaid.
Moreover, the approach taken to these bailouts had unfortunate economic and political consequences that will haunt Europe for some years to come. The negative economic consequences are most evident in the case of Greece, although there are some parallel features in the treatment of Portugal and Ireland as well. Greece suffered a classic debt crisis as a result of profligate public spending and inadequate systems for tax collection. While fiscal cutbacks are necessary in the wake of such a crisis, experiences of other debt crises suggest that countries will emerge from them only if most of the debt is written off, inflation reduces the real value of the debt or a revival of economic growth reduces the scale of the debt relative to GDP.
The policies of the ECB and global economic circumstances militated against inflation, and the rescue packages of the EU initially ruled out writing off the debt. Although Greek debt was written down by a large amount, equivalent to two-thirds of Greek GDP in March , this initiative came too late to offer adequate relief. Thus, the capacity of Greece to emerge from the crisis has depended largely on its capacity to grow economically.
But the terms of the bailout programs specified such high levels of fiscal austerity that economic growth became virtually impossible. These programs required Greece to move from a 15 percent fiscal deficit to a 3 percent primary surplus within the space of three years, something few other countries have ever accomplished. Time and time again, the rosy projections for growth offered by the troika the European Commission, ECB, and IMF supervising the bailout conditions proved illusory. By , Greek GDP remained 25 percent below its level in The loans offered to Greece were not sufficient to allow it any sort of fiscal stimulus: 90 percent of those loans went to pay the interest and principal due on existing loans.
There was no room left to support aggregate demand in the context of deep cuts to wages and social benefits. As gross domestic product shrank, Greek debt as a proportion of GDP grew ever larger, further reducing confidence in the economy. The response of the creditor governments to such concerns has been to emphasize the value of the structural reforms to liberalize product and labor markets imposed on Greece as a condition of the bailout. Some of those reforms are likely to have desirable effects on economic performance, but only in the long run.
In the short run, structural reforms undertaken in the context of fiscal austerity often have negative effects. Why then did the creditor countries of northern Europe insist that structural reforms in the context of fiscal austerity were the best basis for growth? To some extent, this stance was simply pragmatic politics.
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The creditors were already lending Greece sums equivalent to its total annual GDP. Such views had resonance in northern Europe because they conformed to the modes of macroeconomic management that worked best there. In coordinated market economies operating an export-led growth strategy based on high levels of inter-sectoral wage coordination to hold down unit labor costs, a restrained macroeconomic stance is desirable because it reduces the incentives of trade unions and employers to exceed desirable wage norms.
In their case, economic growth depends more heavily on the expansion of domestic demand.
Accordingly, economic growth is returning to Ireland, whose liberal market economy, oriented toward foreign direct investment, which is attracted by favorable tax treatment and a skilled, English-speaking population, has been buoyed by a resurgence in global demand. But growth remains elusive in southern Europe where multiple years of austerity have taken a toll on productive capacity and levels of investment.
Spain is growing again but at rates not yet high enough to reduce an unemployment rate close to 25 percent, and growth remains sluggish in Portugal where the unemployment rate is close to 15 percent. In Greece, 26 percent of the workforce is still unemployed despite a decline in nominal wages of 25 percent since The bailout program has left it floundering in political as well as economic terms. In retrospect, it looks as if it would have been better if the country had been allowed to restructure its debt in and given aid designed to ease its transition toward a primary surplus rather than focused on paying back lenders.
Such an approach would have imposed a larger share of the adjustment costs on European financial institutions and those who invest in them but potentially lower levels of suffering on the Greek people. The response to the Euro crisis also laid bare a series of political paradoxes consequential for the future of European integration. In the context of coping with the crisis, the heads of government of the Eurozone met together or with other EU leaders an extraordinary fifty-four times between January and August Daniel Hannan.
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Marshall Plan Days Routledge Revivals. To contain the crisis, the ECB purchased at least billion euros of bonds from distressed countries. Although this was not its intended purpose, the SMP programme ended up being a huge cash-machine for the Eurosystem. According to data revealed early April, the ECB has already accumulated 61 billion of profits from SMP since until now, with 12 billions more expected by the time the programme completely expires.
Nevertheless It is disappointing that the Eurogroup, which took the decision of the refunds in the first place, was not able to fulfill the same transparency request. Despite our cordial exchange with the Eurogroup President, his office was not able to provide any useful information other than the one provided by the ECB.
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This was a demand we submitted to the European Parliament in September. Of course, the reason the return is so high is because the ECB triggered those massive purchases at the time when most market players were selling those bonds, by fear of a debt restructuring — very much like a vulture fund would typically do.
To be fair, the ECB did not exactly keep 73 billions of profits just for itself out of the operation.