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IMF undermines EU fight for Lativa peg


 Just when it looked as if Latvia’s currency peg to the euro had weathered the storm, the International Monetary Fund has raised fresh doubts by withholding funds for the Baltic European Union newcomer. 

 The IMF is right to demand a credible medium-term strategy for budget reform, but it would be wrong to risk contagion in eastern Europe by questioning the currency board. If one thing
could undermine the EU’s bid to avoid a wave of devaluations around the Baltic states, with knock-on effects for Swedish banks and potentially for central and eastern Europe, it is conspicuous differences between the IMF and Brussels.

Since the IMF has been publicly silent, the reasons for its reluctance to release 200 million euros in delayed funding can only be surmised. Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said on Wednesday an IMF mission visiting Riga had posed new conditions for making the payment, and differed with the
European Commission over early euro entry for the lat. The IMF’s instinct when Latvia first called for help last November was to prescribe devaluation as part of its standard medicine for rescuing countries with a chronic balance of payments deficit. But both Latvia and Brussels objected,
arguing that the currency peg was a reform anchor key to market confidence, and that devaluation would not help the economy, since there were few exports to boost.

It is not clear that the IMF is still advocating devaluation. The signs are that it is demanding a firmer
commitment to tax hikes and budget reforms next year, including in such painful areas as health care, to make the currency peg sustainable.
Latvia has enough money from the EU, which released 1.2 billion euros last month after parliament adopted sweeping public spending and wage cuts, and from individual member states, notably Sweden, to do without the IMF tranche. But the Fund’s backing is important to give the programme credibility.