I don’t want to be the idiot who asked “is it all over?” … but is it all over?
Almost certainly not, is the answer. Greece is shored up for now but Portugal will probably need to follow it in seeking a second bailout and Spain, heading back into recession, will have to make deep, deep cuts over the next two years to meet EU deficit targets. Greek and French elections could easily upset the apple cart, the former producing a fractured government with less will to tread the austerity path, the latter a new president who wants to renegotiate the bloc’s new fiscal rules (though neither are guaranteed).
In Italy, a lot of faith continues to be placed in Monti but the proof of his ability to deliver the structural reforms needed to regalvanise the economy has yet to be seen. On that front, the Italian government is talking with trade unions during the week on radical reform of labour market rules, with the aim of clinching a deal next week.
There are a number possible potholes for the euro zone’s new fiscal pact not just in France — an Irish referendum (they’ve lost those before), signs of the Dutch governing coalition splintering over the issue as well as Francois Hollande’s vow to renegotiate it for France. And Germany has not yet dropped its opposition to a larger bailout fund and now faces complicated regional elections.
Even if all the stars are aligned, Italy, Spain, Portugal (let alone Greece) face years of economic hardship before the reforms bear fruit and cuts are finished with. The ECB’s wall of money and the likelihood that a strong euro zone firewall will be in place by mid-year have clearly reduced the existential threat to the currency bloc substantially. But so much of this is to do with market sentiment, currently benign, that it’s not hard to construct a scenario later this year where it could sour again.