The Great Debate UK
The reality of 'political economy' is something that irritates many economists -- the "purists", if you like. The political element is impossible to model; it often flies in the face of textbook economics; and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow. And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 -- Barack Obama's proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China's monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring's UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.
But nowhere is this more apparent than in well-worn arguments over the validity and future of Europe's single currency -- the new milennium's posterchild for political economy.
For many, the euro simply should never have happened -- it thumbed a nose at the belief that all things good come from free financial markets; it removed monetary safety valves for member countries out of sync with their bigger neighbours and put the cart before the horse with monetary union ahead of fiscal policy integration. But the sheer political determination to finish the European's single market project, stop beggar-thy-neighbour currency devaluations and face down erratic currency trading meant the currency was born and has thrived for 11 years.
Now the budgetary and bond market upheaval currently afflicting euro member Greece and stalking Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy has reawakened the whole debate. "Will the euro survive?" seems a legitimate question once again.
from Global News Journal:
So there's no question Greece has work to do to improve its bookkeeping.
Not only must it get spending in check, but it needs to be a bit more honest about where its finances stand in the first place. After all, it's not often an EU country says one month that its budget deficit is a little over three percent of GDP and admits a few weeks later that, oh dear, it's actually nearer 13 percent.
Yet it's hard not to have a little sympathy for Greece at the same time.
Its government bonds have been hammered and the price it has to pay to finance its debt has soared as financial markets have relentlessly taken it to task over the past six weeks for its profligacy.
Juergen Stark , Germany's ECB executive board member, is well known as a true believer in tight fiscal discipline, so his reported comments in Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore about not bailing Greece out of its financial difficulties are not out of character. But the market reaction must have at least given pause for thought to EU leaders wondering how far to go in coddling their wayward child.
Within moments of Stark's reported musings that markets were "deluding themselves" if they thought member states would "put their hands in their wallets to save Greece", hitting the foreign exchange rooms, the euro was on a tumble. It hit a low of $1.4285 from a day's high of $1.4371 -- which doesn't sound like a lot, but is, especially over a very short period of time.
The European Union is in danger of getting camels for its two new leadership positions -- president of the European Council and foreign policy High Representative -- because of the dysfunctional appointment process created by the Lisbon Treaty.
The secretive horse (or camel)-trading by which EU governments choose the 27-nation bloc's top office-holders seems designed to deter strong candidates and produce lowest-common-denominator outcomes. Some of the most able potential contenders would rather stay at home than take the key jobs to Brussels.
The European Union has been at the forefront in pressing for binding, internationally monitored reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and funding from industrialised countries to help developing nations switch to clean energy.
Who will be the first president of the European Council of EU leaders? Anyone but Tony Blair. That is the only clear message to emerge from a European Union summit, where the appointments of the EU's two new senior office-holders is not on the agenda but is on everyone's mind.
The appointment process is typical of the surreal way in which the 27-nation bloc does business. The job is poorly defined in the Lisbon treaty reforming the EU's institutions, which is expected to come into force in the next few weeks. But it is clear that most leaders are looking for a consensus-building summit chairman rather than a high-profile president of Europe.
The EU show is back on the road. Sixteen months after Irish voters brought the European Union's tortured process of institutional reform to a juddering halt by voting "No" to the Lisbon treaty, the same electorate has turned out in larger numbers to say "Yes" by a two-thirds majority.
This is an immense relief for the EU's leadership. After three lost referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and a record low turnout in this year's European Parliament elections, the democratic legitimacy of the European integration process was increasingly open to question. The Irish vote will not completely silence those doubts. Opponents are already accusing the EU of have bullied the Irish into voting again on the same text, and of blackmailing them with economic disaster if they did not vote the right way this time.
Germans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe's biggest economy for the last four years.
This should mean an end to "steady as she goes" lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country's tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.
Jose Manuel Barroso promised the European Parliament that as re-elected president of the European Commission he will have more authority to fight for Europe and defend its single market against economic nationalism.
But after five years of toadying to the big member states, he will need to show more spine to enforce state aid and competition rules on Germany, Britain and France in the teeth of strong national financial or commercial interests.
An intriguing story in Le Monde reports that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon (pictured left with Barroso and President Nicolas Sarkozy) is considering offering his services as head of the European Union executive if Barroso fails to win majority support from the European Parliament this month. Le Monde quotes an unidentified French minister and an anonymous senior diplomat, with a comment from Fillon's office declining to speculate on a Barroso failure and saying that of course, the prime minister is interested in Europe but he hasn't put himself forward as a candidate.