MacroScope

ECB in the dock

Protestors left some barbed wire in front of the euro sign landmark outside the headquarters of the ECB before its monthly news conference in Frankfurt

The European Court of Justice holds a first hearing on the legality of the European Central Bank’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme. There won’t be anything definitive today but it serves to rekindle debate about the limits of the ECB’s powers.

In February, the German Constitutional Court asked the European Court to rule on the legality of OMT, the mechanism that drew a line under the euro zone crisis when it was unveiled in 2012. The court may give guidance about how best to make a final ruling which is expected in late spring next year.

The scheme has never been deployed because the mere threat of action prompted government borrowing costs to tumble to record lows. Now, the debate is centred on whether the central bank should start printing money to ward off a deflationary downward spiral.

If its bond-buying scheme was thrown out by the EU court, or German participation rejected by Germany’s constitutional court – something most legal experts think is unlikely – it would put a serious crack in the edifice and perhaps prompt markets to start testing the euro zone’s defences once again.

It’s also possible that elements of any ruling could directly call into question the legitimacy of the ECB embarking on a quantitative easing programme. A legal challenge from some in Germany would seem likely if the ECB ever did go down that road.

A tale of two budgets

 

It’s deadline day for euro zone member states to submit their 2014 budget plans to the European Commission for inspection and we’re waiting on Italy and Ireland.

Having survived Silvio Berlusconi’s attempt to pull the government down, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition has to overcome differences on tax and spending policy.
The aim is to agree a 2014 budget that reduces labour taxes by some 5 billion euros but also undercuts the EU’s 3 percent of GDP deficit limit, so spending cuts will be required.

Rome has a chequered track record in that regard. The cabinet will meet at 1500 GMT to try and agree a comprehensive package. A Treasury source said the scale of tax cuts would be dictated by how much the various government ministries are prepared to forego.

Today in the euro zone – a blizzard of bailout numbers

Brace yourself for a blizzard of numbers.

EU finance ministers gathered in Copenhagen are poised to decide precisely how much firepower their new rescue fund – to be launched mid-year – will have. A draft communiqué suggests that as of mid-2013, presuming no new bailouts have been required in the interim, the combined lending ceiling of the future ESM and existing EFSF bailout funds will be set at 700 billion euros (500 billion pledged to the ESM plus the roughly 200 billion already committed to Greek, Irish and Portuguese rescue programmes).

Up to mid-2013, if 700 billion proves to be insufficient — i.e. someone else needs bailing out — euro zone leaders will be able to bolster it with the 240 billion euros as yet unused in the EFSF, according to the draft, although German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said last night that 800 billion should be the absolute limit.

Sorry, there’s more. Because the ESM will not have its full 500 billion euros capacity on day one – it will build up over time – the real available figure for the next year is more like 640 billion euros.
Confused? You should be.