If you think the economic news is grim in the US, the UK or Germany, spare a thought for the small Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All face the prospect that their gross domestic product will collapse this year by 10 to 12 per cent. Moreover, all operate a so-called currency board regime, or peg, which restricts the movement of their currencies against the euro and prevents them from stimulating economic recovery by means of exchange rate depreciation.
One answer, as the International Monetary Fund pointed out a few weeks ago, would be for the European Union to relax its rules and let the Baltic states swap their currencies for the euro without formally joining the eurozone. This would in principle ease their foreign debt problems and restore confidence among foreign investors. The alternative – severe government austerity programmes, followed by a sharp drop in living standards, social unrest and political instability – seems far too harsh and risky a solution.