James Saft

Europe’s three simple problems

Nov 3, 2011 15:40 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The plan to rescue the euro zone faces only three hurdles; democracy, reality, and supply and demand.If they can overcome those, it is going to work perfectly, and, amazingly, they just might.

Democracy reared its rather large head when the Greek government decided suddenly that it wanted a sign-off from its voters and moved to put the plan to a plebiscite.

While it is hard to argue with the idea of a people getting a chance to vote directly on a plan that will mean tough times for the better part of the next decade, the move jeopardizes not only the confidence on which the entire rescue relies but also the next infusion of much-needed cash Greece is slated to get in November.

If the Greeks vote against the plan it means a full-fledged, badly controlled sovereign default, with all that implies for euro zone banks. Is that something the Greeks will vote for, even if it means ejection from the euro zone? Just the specter of the vote makes it far harder for euro zone officials to put the rest of their plan into effect, a number of whose planks are already looking shaky.

Democracy, or whatever alternative term you would prefer to use, is also doing the rescue no favors in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under pressure to step aside for a government of national unity. There is also precious little faith that Italy will produce credible fiscal and structural reforms. All of this is reflected most starkly in the reality of the bond market. Italian 10-year bond yields now stand at about 6.16 percent, a level that is unsustainable, considerably higher than before the grand plan was announced, and a threat in and of itself to the rest of the plan’s moving pieces.

Much depends on, gulp, German consumer

Jan 13, 2011 13:10 UTC

If the euro is going to survive without a Depression, German consumers are going to have to behave in ways that are, well, distinctly un-German.

While attention is focused on the suffering that the euro zone debt debacle is inflicting on the weak and the political anger the costs of bailouts are engendering among the strong, it is important to understand that the belt-tightening won’t just be a Gaelic and Mediterranean phenomenon.

German consumers will (rightly) regard events as likely to increase their taxes while doing precious little for their incomes and job prospects. If they react to this like Americans and spend like there is no tomorrow, well then, perhaps the euro zone can handle the local recessions in the Austerity Provinces. If, on the other hand, Germans behave anything like the way they have in the past, they will save more and only increase spending marginally, if at all.