Today’s big setpiece is a meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande ahead of a June EU summit which is supposed to lay the path for a banking union. The traditional twin motor of Europe has sputtered – not least because the French economy is so much more sickly than Germany’s – but also because of real differences of opinion.
It looks like a week short of blockbusters, particularly today with much of Europe on holiday. But there will be plenty to chew over over the next few days on the state of the euro zone and whether newly-printed central bank money lapping round the world risks throwing things off kilter.
Spanish government bonds have had a good run since the European Central Bank said it would protect the euro last year. But some analysts say the threat of a rating downgrade to junk remains an important risk.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy meets labour union and business leaders to discuss reforms to pensions and public institutions. After some fairly brutal cutting, Rajoy has grown more cautious. He is negotiating a new formula for calculating pension payoffs but is wary of going further for fear of sparking greater protest. And all the time, recession put the country’s debt targets further out of reach.
Evidence that Europe’s austerity policies are not working was in ample supply this morning. The euro zone as a whole is now in its longest recession since the start of monetary union. France has succumbed to the region’s retrenchment. Italy’s GDP slump is now the lengthiest on record. And Greece, still in depression, shrank another 5.3 percent in the first quarter.
Britain’s David Cameron began the day on Monday gently slapping down two Cabinet colleagues who said if they had a vote today, they would opt to leave the EU. It was senseless, he said, to throw in the towel before he had had a chance to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. He ended it by caving into rebels in his Conservative party who are demanding legislation now to commit to an in/out referendum before the next election.
“What did he mean by that?” 19th century Austrian diplomat Metternich is said to have asked of Talleyrand when he heard the French statesman had died. The euro zone crisis, and the response of its leaders, has often required the same question to be asked.
European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi felt it necessary yesterday to depart from the script at a ceremony awarding an honorary degree to reiterate his message from last Thursday – that the ECB could cut interest rates again and was looking at pushing the deposit rate which it charges banks for holding their funds overnight into negative territory in an attempt to get them to lend again.
It’s European Central Bank day and we have it on very good authority that a quarter-point interest rate cut is on the cards, which will take rates to a record low 0.5 percent. A plunge in euro zone inflation to 1.2 percent, way below the target of close to but below 2 percent, has cemented the case for action.