Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
If the world thought that Europe’s finance ministers were running in to put out the blaze spreading through Athens and Rome this week, it might come as a surprise to learn they still don’t agree on the size of the fire or how to deal with it.
Any training course will tell you that if a small fire isn’t tackled quickly, it could make things a lot worse. The Greek crisis is like a small electrical fire that has grown into a dangerous inferno now threatening to gut Italy.
But ministers meeting in Brussels have clearly not been on any fire extinguisher training courses lately — they don’t know their water from their foam and their dry powder. In fact, they appear to be pouring oil on the fire.
Belgium’s Finance Minister Didier Reynders says it is best to try to smother the blaze with a small cloth soaked in a chemical called a financial transaction tax, while Sweden’s Anders Borg and Austria’s Maria Fekter say they can’t spare any of their CO2 extinguishers.
from Jeremy Gaunt:
It seems as if almost everyone was surprised by Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the euro zone's bailout package for his country. At the very least, it can probably be said that he is weary of being hammered from all sides -- his own party, the opposition, the people on the street, Germany, the tabloid press, you name it.
A lot will obviously depend on what question is asked. Do you want an end to austerity, would get a clear yes vote. Do you want to leave the euro zone -- perhaps not.
If people stop commenting on the financial crisis, does it still exist?
A month ago, Europe was in the throes of fretting about Greece’s debt problems and whether they were going to spill over to Portugal and Spain, bringing down the euro and a decade of monetary union with it. At the same time there was intense anxiety about impending results from stress tests on nearly 100 European banks.
Every day — and sometimes several times a day – European Union officials, ministers, leaders or central bank governors would say something about the crisis, providing more fodder for frazzled financial markets to make another round of cliff-hanging calls over whether things were getting better or worse.
The European Union can rarely have been more in need of a
show of unity than now, as it tries to convince financial
markets it can handle the euro zone’s debt crisis.
Hardly a day goes by without a European leader underlining
the need to act together, but hardly a day passes without signs of
differences among them that undermine the impression of unity.
Whichever way you look at it, Germany is in a bit of a quandry.
For the past 11 years, since the launch of the euro single currency, Europe’s biggest economy has enjoyed steady current account surpluses as it has exported its manufactured goods around the world, while keeping labour costs down and productivity steady at home.
Its economic growth may not have been stunning in recent years, but it has experienced none of the huge budget-deficit and debt problems of its euro zone partners, particularly those in southern Europe such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. And it has none of the nagging competitiveness issues that all those countries also face.
Most people would agree that the European Union and the euro single currency are part of a grand political and economic vision. But at times they are also a bit of a numbers game.
As Greece has shown with its less-than-reliable economic statistics, numbers can be fiddled to get budget deficits and debts down and meet the criteria to join the euro.
The surge in the spread of Greek bond yields over German ones since European leaders issued a promise of emergency loans to Greece last month indicates financial markets do not believe the pledge of euro zone support is anything more than a bluff.
And they are itching to call it.
Euro zone leaders have been betting that a promise of loans to Greece and strong words of political support will be enough to calm markets and allow Athens to borrow at more reasonable rates, therefore rendering any real aid — the dreaded bailout — unnecessary.
The Greek debt crisis appears to be entering a new phase, in which the country is no longer just waiting to get needed help but getting concerned that others -- including euro zone powerhouse Germany -- may actually be making it hard for them to recover.
First, there is Prime Minister George Papandreou (right in photo). His concern is that speculators are pushing the cost of borrowing so high that it is undermining the plans he has put in place for deficit reduction. Papandreou is known for being a mild-mannered sort, so any kind of irritability is worth noting.
In the space of a few weeks, the idea of creating a European Monetary Fund to rescue financially troubled EU member states has gone from being a high-level brainwave from a pair of economists to a major policy initiative backed by powerbroker Germany. In EU terms, that’s Formula One fast.
Yet while German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be behind the concept, even if she has concerns about a possible need to change the EU’s treaty, no one has put much flesh on the bones of the idea apart from the original proponents — Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies and Thomas Mayer, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank.
The periphery economies of the euro zone are suddenly in the spotlight. Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has cut its outlook on Ireland's sovereign debt to negative. It worries that fiscal measures to recapitalise banks and boost the economy might not improve competitiveness, diversity and growth -- all making it harder to manage debt.
Next came Greece. S&P basically put the country on watch with a negative bias. The global financial crisis has increased the risk of a difficult and long-lasting struggle to keep the Greek economy on track, it said.