Now that the crisis in Cyprus has passed, we can finally admit the obvious: The “crisis” it provoked did not deserve the attention it received. Cyprus makes up a fraction of one percent of the European Union’s GDP and it’s a backwater for sketchy Russian dealings. If Cyprus had drowned in a sea of Mediterranean debt, the Eurozone would not have gone under with it.
But what a story! The news was dominated by theatrics: a plane filled with 1 million Euros, last-minute deals in danger of falling apart, and failed emergency meetings in Moscow. But behind that global drama, all the Cypriot political parties supported staying in the Eurozone, and the German government remains committed to the sanctity of the monetary union. How was Cyprus going to deal the Eurozone an existential blow?
Nor will the painful bailout parameters in Cyprus prove a rule going forward, despite ill-advised warnings to the contrary from the president of the Eurogroup. One moment Jeroen Dijsselbloem is saying that Cyprus could be a model for future European bailouts —and markets take a nosedive. A few hours later he reneges on his remarks, saying: “Cyprus is a specific case with exceptional challenges which required the bail-in measures we have agreed upon yesterday. Macro-economic adjustment programmes are tailor-made to the situation of the country concerned and no models or templates are used.”
Cyprus was not Greece (or Italy, or Spain) Redux. Nor have the bailout terms set a precedent for future crises in the Eurozone’s periphery. It was a sideshow.
But that sideshow is still telling. It spoke to the new reality in the Eurozone: For anything to get done, it has to first generate an unnecessary crisis. There are so many moving parts to European Union bureaucracy that the only way to create action is with dire threats and tight deadlines. Most sane people now understand that the Eurozone is not going to fall apart, so Germany has to ring the alarm more loudly than in the past if it hopes to force change. In the absence of imminent crisis, the only way to implement deep, structural change is by harnessing the pain that market forces can inflict.