The Great Debate UK

A funny sort of Union

The pictures from Athens at the weekend showed a city in turmoil: protests turned violent, buildings were alight and an anti-German feeling was clear for all to see. German flags have been burnt as Greek politicians have agreed to yet more austerity, which means reduced pensions, a 20% cut to the minimum wage and mass layoffs in the public sector.

Added to that the EU has demanded that Greek politicians from both sides of the political aisle sign a pledge to implement cuts regardless of the outcome of the general election scheduled for April. Thus, even if the Greek people vote for an alternative to cuts the troika will insist on them.

But while the Greeks protested at this loss of sovereignty the financial markets have been surprisingly calm. While Greek politicians have been in the throes of austerity, negotiations the bond markets in Italy, Spain and Portugal have continued to recover and apart from a slight blip at the end of last week, euro-based risk assets have continued to rally. Added to this, those calling for the end of the euro have been frustrated by the resilience of the single currency.

So does this mean that the markets will have a delayed reaction to what is going on in Athens, or does Greece not matter anymore? I tend to lean towards the latter. That doesn’t mean that no one cares about Greece or her citizens – the pictures at the weekend were truly disturbing – it’s just that in terms of the euro zone crisis, what happens in Athens is not such an important part of the equation anymore.

A make-or-break month for the euro zone

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

For over a year now people have been calling for the collapse of the euro zone. Either one of the bailed out nations would leave, or the more fiscally sound northern European states would form their own version of a union. Regardless of what the outcome would be, the harsh reality was that the Eurozone’s massive floor -  allowing countries like Greece to borrow for nearly a decade at German-style interest rates without some limit on spending or enforcement of fiscal rules – meant that it could not survive.

But after 18 months of stop gap solutions, emergency weekend summits and hastily constructed bailout plans it feels more and more like September may be the swan song for the currency bloc.

from Breakingviews:

Greek rescue: pig in a poke

By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A deal was better than a disaster. But last week's planned rescue of Greece has the astonishing by-product of increasing its debts. It also lets private creditors off lightly while making taxpayers elsewhere in the euro zone pay through the nose. It doesn't even mark the end of the crisis.

from Breakingviews:

Greek rescue bizarrely increases its debts

By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Listen to the politicians and one might think that Greece’s debts will fall as a result of last week’s provisional rescue by euro zone leaders and private-sector creditors. In fact, they go up. Athens’ borrowings will increase by 31 billion euros under the rescue scheme, according to an analysis by Reuters Breakingviews. This increase, equivalent to 14 percent of GDP, will push the country’s estimated peak debt/GDP ratio next year to 179 percent.

from Breakingviews:

Berlusconi really must go

By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Silvio Berlusconi really must go. It’s no longer about abuse of power and “bunga bunga” sex parties. His continuation as Italy’s prime minister could drive the country into a financial death spiral. His own supporters are shaken and the public is afraid. But the left-wing opposition is behaving responsibly, so there’s some hope.

Could Italy go the way of Greece?

Italy has hogged the headlines in recent weeks mostly for political reasons rather than financial ones. But in a few months we may be concentrating on its fiscal woes and unsustainable debt burden.

Last week credit rating agency Moody’s announced it was putting Italy on review for a possible downgrade to its Aa2 credit rating. These reviews typically last three months or so, and although a downgrade would still leave Italy at the higher end of investment grade, it is not good news to be sliding down the scale, especially when a sovereign debt crisis is raging further along the Mediterranean coast.

Units and unities: can currency change really resolve the Greek tragedy?

As the Greek tragedy goes into what looks like its final act, there is increasing talk of the country leaving the euro zone and refloating the drachma. Perhaps the Athens street mobs favour this “solution”, but what would it involve, and would it work?

It is a bizarre situation, without precedent as far as I am aware (though I am no economic historian). Usually, new currencies are introduced to replace old ones which have become discredited (typically after hyperinflation), whereas here we are talking about the absolute opposite: abandoning the euro because it is too strong, in favour of a new drachma, which will be a weak currency by design – rather like launching a ship, in the hope it will sink!

from Breakingviews:

How the euro zone can save itself

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

By Hugo Dixon

Greece is likely to receive another short-term sticking plaster after the euro zone’s leaders stared into the abyss. But a repeat of the drama of recent days is all too possible. The region can, and must, protect itself against Athenian delinquency.

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