By Bethany McLean
The opinions expressed are her own.
In the spring of 2010, European finance ministers announced the facility’s formation with great fanfare. In its inaugural report, Standard & Poor’s described the EFSF as the “cornerstone of the EU’s strategy to restore financial stability to the euro zone sovereign debt market.” The facility itself said in an October 2011 date presentation that its mission is to “safeguard financial stability in Europe.”
That of course hasn’t happened. And the evidence suggests that the EFSF may have only exacerbated the problems.
In theory, the facility is supposed to provide a way for a country that the market perceives as weak to still borrow money on good terms. The initial idea was that instead of the financially troubled country itself trying to sell its debt to live another day, the EFSF would be the one to raise the money and lend it to the country in question. The logic was simple: country X might be shaky, but the EFSF deserved a triple-A rating.
For all of its would-be financial firepower, the EFSF isn’t much to see—it’s just an office in Luxembourg with a German-born economist CEO named Klaus Regling, who oversees a staff of about 20. Its power—and that rating—is derived from the assumption that any debt it issues is guaranteed by the members of the euro zone. Initially, each member pledged unconditionally to repay up to 120% of its share of any debt the EFSF issued. (A country’s share is determined by the amount of capital it has in the European Central Bank.)