Denmark's Margrethe Vestager, center, with her counterparts in Copenhagen this weekend.
Following our story Saturday and subsequent blog post on two confidential economic analyses prepared for European finance ministers in Copenhagen which paint a less-than-confident picture of the eurozone crisis, we here at Brussels Blog have received multiple requests for more on their contents. Read more
US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner
Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, has occasionally irked his European counterparts with attempts to influence the eurozone’s crisis policymaking, but European officials will be closely listening to him as the clock ticks down to next month’s spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund.
European Union leaders hope to get non-eurozone backing to double the IMF’s funding to $1tn at the gathering. Although the US won’t contribute, Washington is the IMF’s largest shareholder and is widely believed to be behind the insistence of Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, that no increase will be forthcoming unless the eurozone increases the size of its own €500bn rescue system.
Those interested in tea leaf reading will get their chance today, when Geithner testifies on Capital Hill on the eurozone crisis. The House financial services committee, where Geithner will appear, helpfully released his testimony last night, and it makes clear Geithner is in no mood to back down. Read more
Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho arriving at Monday's EU summit in Brussels
As financial markets watch with nervous anticipation the outcome of the tense negotiations over Greece’s debt restructuring, there is clear evidence that bond investors believe Portugal could be next, despite repeated insistence by European leaders that Greece is “an exceptional and unique case” – a stance reiterated at Monday’s summit.
Portugal’s benchmark 10-year bonds were over 17.3 per cent this week, though things have eased off a bit today. Those are levels seen only by Greece and are a sign the markets don’t believe Lisbon will be able to return to the private markets when its bailout ends next year. Default, the thinking goes, then becomes inevitable.
But are Greece and Portugal really comparable? Portugal certainly shares more problems with Greece (slow growth, uncompetitive economy) than with Ireland and Spain (housing bubbles, bank collapses). But unlike Greece, where talk of an inevitable default was the topic of whispered gossip in Brussels’ corridors from almost the moment of its first €110bn bailout, there is no such buzz about Portugal.
More concretely, the latest report by the European Commission on the €78bn Portuguese bail-out, published just a couple weeks ago, paints a much different picture for Lisbon than for Athens. An in-depth look at the largely overlooked report after the jump… Read more
French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the summit this morning.
The big European Union summit will be divided in two parts today, with all 27 EU leaders meeting in the morning before the session is narrowed to the 17 members of the eurozone in the afternoon.
The Brussels Blog has obtained a copy of the 12-page draft of the morning gathering’s communiqué, circulated to summiteers this morning, and unless things change at the meeting, it looks like there will be no final decision on the one thing the 27 had hoped to finish today – a plan to recapitalise Europe’s banks.
The draft “welcomes progress made” by EU finance ministers during their 10-hour meeting on Saturday, but says the work will not be officially signed off until another meeting on Wednesday – the first official acknowledgement that leaders from all 27 EU countries (and not just the eurozone) will have to meet again next week. Whether that meeting will be the heads of all 27 governments or just their finance ministers remains to be seen. Read more
From our foreign affairs blog:
Welcome to our continuing coverage of the eurozone crisis. All times are London time. Curated by Esther Bintliff and John Aglionby on the world news desk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. This post should update automatically every few minutes, although it may take longer on mobile devices.
Put it down to all those bankers and Eurocrats: Luxembourgers are once again Europe’s richest citizens.
The Grand Duchy’s gross domestic product per person is 283 per cent of the EU average, according to 2010 data released this morning by Eurostat — itself based in Luxembourg. That’s a whopping 6.6 times larger than Bulgaria, the bloc’s laggard, whose GDP per person is a mere 43 per cent of EU output.
That gap between richest and poorest is 0.2 points larger than last year both because Luxembourg’s GDP share rose (from 272 per cent) and Bulgaria’s dropped (from 44 per cent). All figures are adjusted for purchasing power changes, so exchange rates don’t factor in.
Martin Wolf refers me to this new paper by Paul De Grauwe, The Governance of a Fragile Europe. It very well argued and, I think, entirely convincing. Unless something is done, the prognosis for the eurozone is not good. Here is the abstract: Read more
European Union leaders agreed to set up a permanent bail-out mechanism for troubled eurozone economies after 2013. Lex’s John Authers and Vincent Boland discuss whether the measures can solve the problems facing the eurozone. Read more
The pre-summit caucuses of leaders in their party groupings have begun, and one of the surprise guests at the centre-right European Peoples’ Party meeting is Pedro Passos Coelho, the head of Portugal’s opposition Social Democrats and the country’s likely next prime minister. Read more
If you’re a European policymaker and you’ve become exhausted by the idea of austerity, then you might consider a new report by Charles Roxburgh of the McKinsey Global Institute.
The report, “Beyond Austerity: A path to economic growth and renewal in Europe”, is an attempt to skip past the discussion about how drastically governments should slash spending to look at ways they can stoke growth. It coincides with a growing complaint among some Brussels diplomats that months of economic crisis fire-fighting have caused the EU to neglect policies that create jobs.
On the job-creation front, Europe’s record is actually better than many people might suspect. Between 1995 and 2008, the European Union generated slightly more jobs than the US – 23.9m to 20.5m. (For statistical reasons, the study only includes the 15 countries that were EU members before its 2004 enlargement).
“There’s quite a good story on job growth,” Mr Roxburgh said. “The flipside is in productivity.” Read more
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, on Wednesday formally kicked off what is now known as the “European Semester” – a new six-month process of reviewing national budgets and reform programmes to make sure the countries are getting their fiscal acts in order.
The Commission considers the process so important to pulling the continent out of the current crisis that it organised a day-long conference in Brussels to discuss its role in the post-crisis world.
But at the first panel of the day, two of the most influential economists in town – Marco Buti, the powerful head of the Commission’s economic and financial affairs directorate, and Daniel Gros, director of the respected Centre for European Policy Studies – got into a heated tussle over whether the whole process was just one big waste of time.
Gros played the skunk at the garden party, saying that all the attention being paid to the European Semester – essentially another round of austerity recommendations – was taking time and energy away from the real task at hand: fending off the bond market’s attack on one eurozone country after another. Read more
By Jo Johnson, British MP and former editor of the FT’s Lex column
As it’s prediction season, here goes… My crystal ball, for what it is worth, foretells political and economic union between France and Germany, perhaps within the next 12-24 months. Europe needs a gamechanger, one that creates an insurmountable firebreak against the speculators. Crises have historically been the motor of European integration and a full union, much like the panicky one Britain offered France in June 1940, might look tempting. It would provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies, finally fulfilling the founding fathers’ dream of “ever closer union”. Read more
The opening feature of any EU summit is the gathering of heads of government at their partisan caucuses. These days none is more important than the European People’s Party, the right-wing EU coalition that includes Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. Read more
George Soros thinks that all of Europe is becoming fiscally Germanic, and he’s not happy about it.
The famed financier and philanthropist was in Brussels Tuesday to discuss the plight of Europe’s Roma population, which made headlines last month when France began deporting large groups of Roma back to Eastern Europe.
But he took some time during a lunch with a small group of journalists to criticise Germany’s insistence on fiscal austerity, which he believes is being imposed continent-wide through Berlin’s influence over the EU’s economic institutions.
“They have emerged as the hegemon of euro-land, who set the policy for euro-land; they write the operating instructions for the new common fiscal policy,” Mr Soros said. “Europe, because of the fiscal rectitude imposed by Germany, faces I think a prolonged period of economic stagnation, conceivably decline.” Read more
Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, made headlines Wednesday after he warned of the potential for a currency war – or, to be more precise, a “competitive non-appreciation” – if China did not allow the renminbi to appreciate more freely.
What was less noticed in his address was some equally tough talk for Europe, where he seems to see a danger of continent-wide austerity measures stifling the nascent global economic rebound. Read more
Three days of summitry between EU and Asian leaders wraps up Wednesday in Brussels with the only “deliverable” – diplo-speak for a concrete achievement – of the entire event: the signing of a free trade agreement between the EU and South Korea.
But frequently, these international talkfests are more interesting for the atmospherics than any deals that are struck, and this week the mood has been more telling than most. Read more
Brussels got a welcome burst of colour today as tens of thousands of trade unionists converged on its boulevards to express outrage at planned public spending cuts. Read more
Raising the retirement age and cutting back pension entitlements are possibly the most unpopular measures that any modern European government can take for the purpose of stabilising the public finances. From an individual’s point of view, the advantages seem remote or non-existent and the disadvantages all too immediate. From the point of view of a ruling political party seeking re-election, it’s much the same story. This explains why there is growing interest among European Union policymakers in the idea of “de-politicising” the pensions issue, by making certain changes to pension systems automatic and not subject to endless, acrimonious political struggles.
Take a Green Paper published today by the European Commission. A Green Paper is a document designed to stimulate public discussion, not make firm policy proposals, so the Commission steers a cautious path through the issues. Nonetheless, it observes in one passage: “A number of member-states have demonstrated that a promising policy option for strengthening the sustainability of pension systems is an automatic adjustment that increases the pensionable age in line with future gains in life expectancy.” Read more