The Great Debate UK

Italy – the new good man of Europe

Up until Monday, Italy used to be known as the sick man of Europe. It has huge debts, sclerotic growth and had been ruled by a billionaire prone to a bunga-bunga parties. It was at risk of becoming the laughing stock of the currency bloc. The relationship in recent years between Italy and Germany has been dreadful. But could things be about to change?

Italy could become the best man of Europe after the EU elections last weekend. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party won an impressive 33% of the vote, beating off competition from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo. Silvio Belusconi’s Forza Italia was left straggling in Renzi’s wake with only 18% of the vote.

This contrasts sharply with France, where the anti-EU, far-right Front National beat President Francois Hollande’s Socialists, leaving the President clinging to power. The win for Marine Le Pen’s party could shift the power dynamics in the euro zone, leaving a space open for Matteo Renzi to get Italy back from the periphery and into the core of Europe.

The German-Franco alliance looks shaky following the win for Front National. Now that Italy has rejected an anti-euro political force, Angela Merkel could start to warm towards Rome. If Merkel can open her arms to Italy then the third largest economy in the currency bloc could score a PR coup, and solidify itself in the heart of the currency bloc.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

European leaders show their weakness

 

The European Union, at the forefront of the hostilities between Russia and the West, is in a bind.

It has belatedly adopted Ukraine as one of its own. Yet the EU economy is so frail,  thanks to its beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies, that it is reluctant to use financial and trade sanctions to punish Russia for occupying Crimea and threatening to occupy the eastern part of Ukraine.

from The Great Debate:

Greek bailout sham

Driven by its bailout loan terms, the Greek Parliament recently voted to lay off 25,000 more public employees. The public has responded with demonstrations while striking public sector workers try to disrupt air and rail travel, law enforcement and medical care.

How did Greece get to this point, where creditors dictate what jobs the government should cut as a condition for continued bailout loans, and where its outraged citizens take to the streets? What are the chances that Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ newest plans to fire or cut salaries of thousands of government employees will work?

Thanks, Greece

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The euro zone crisis has been a piece of luck for Britain. Imagine what would have happened without it.

An ECB rate cut would be no magic wand

–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Disappointing April data suggest that the European Central Bank is set to cut the refinancing rate at Thursday’s Council meeting. This is likely to have limited economic impact but could encourage expectations of more creative policy action later, helping to take some upward pressure off the euro.

How do you police without a force?

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

You will often have heard it said that the euro zone cannot ultimately survive without fiscal union. This is complete nonsense. The truth is that, even with a full fiscal union, it cannot survive – at least, not with any form of fiscal union that one can imagine all the members signing up to.

Budget day cheer is here again

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Budget Day again, and the pressure on Chancellor George Osborne is rising ominously. There is little agreement about what needs to be done, but complete agreement that something has to change because the state of Britain’s economy is simply awful.

Yet just look at the facts in the table below (all the data are taken from Eurostat, the EU’s own statistical agency). For the latest quarter, the UK economy contracted by 0.3 percent – but France’s performance was just as dismal, Germany’s economy shrank by twice as much, as did the euro zone as a whole. Only the USA achieved a significantly better outcome, a dazzling growth rate of zero  – but at least it didn’t shrink. Year-on-year (Y-O-Y, as the pros call it), the picture is even clearer. Britain’s economic growth, a miserable 0.3 percent, was not significantly lower than Germany’s, but better than France’s minus-0.3 percent, or indeed the euro zone as a whole, which was down by 0.9 percent. Only the USA grew to any significant extent – and there are signs that it may now be starting to slow down, even before the impact of the fiscal cliff and the sequester are felt.

from The Great Debate:

Why the EU is right on Cyprus

The reaction to this weekend’s European Union bailout deal for Cyprus has gone from initial shock to rather predictable condemnation. “Europe botches another rescue,” ran the headline on an editorial in the Financial Times. “It’s as if the Europeans are holding up a neon sign, written in Greek and Italian, saying ‘time to stage a run on your banks,’ ” Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist wrote on his blog.

As widely reported, the deal has an important claw-back component: a one-time tax on the deposits of everyone who has a bank account in Cyprus ‑ Cypriots and foreigners alike ‑ aimed at raising 5.8 billion euros of the total rescue package of 17 billion euros. It’s always possible that the hyper-alarmist scenario of a pan-European bank run actually takes place, although by Monday afternoon, even jittery stock markets across Europe were starting to grow calmer, as EU officials insisted that the Cyprus deal was exceptional.

from The Great Debate:

Without coordinated leadership, Europe will falter

There is an increasing probability that financial markets will respond negatively to the unfolding economic and political drama unfolding across Europe. So far, the European Central Bank has pumped out cash and calmed the nerves of investors, but it needs to do more. A cut in interest rates by the ECB is crucial to contribute to a revival of growth across the euro zone. On its own, however, that is not enough. Europe’s political authorities need to counter the increasingly widespread perception that they lack the will to confront the zone’s economic ailments and promote a clear path to growth – austerity policies alone will not work.

The situation has become far more serious now that the crisis has moved from the zone’s periphery to its major economies: Spain shows no signs of emerging from prolonged negative growth, Italy is now facing mounting difficulties and France is sliding into recession.

All pain, no gain for Germany

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Whenever the question of the future of the euro zone comes up, you can always rely on someone (often a German) to say something like “Yes, of course the Germans don’t like having to foot the bill for the weaklings… but at the same time, they do get enormous benefits from having a fixed exchange rate. I mean, just look at their trade surplus. All those Mercs and BMW’s you see in Milan and Athens and…”

This argument is utter nonsense, and the economists especially ought to know better.

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