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EU economic chief Pierre Moscovici, right, with Portugal's new finance minister in Lisbon
There’s been a rare spate of good economic news for the eurozone recently, with Eurostat announcing last week that the currency union’s gross domestic product had finally returned to pre-crisis levels and was growing at a 0.6 per cent quarterly clip – enough to outpace the US or the UK so far this year. But growth remains uneven across the 19-member bloc, and the first quarter’s performance remains meagre by historical standards. As a result, it will likely not be enough to help eurozone countries currently finding it difficult to get their debt and deficit levels back under EU budget ceilings.
Those countries sparring with Brussels over such budget targets – France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – will be in the spotlight today when the European Commission issues its new economic forecasts, which will include predictions on whether any of them are making progress towards getting their deficits below the 3 per cent of GDP threshold or – in the case of Italy, which is already below the deficit ceiling – are cutting their debt piles fast enough.
Greece's hulking finance ministry, overlooking Athens' central Syntagma Square
With Greece’s government coffers dwindling by the day, nervous creditors have been watching each and every debt repayment and monthly wage bill closely for signs Athens has finally run out of cash.
But despite many predictions the country should have gone bust by now, the Syriza-led government has managed to scrape together enough funds to pay its creditors – including a €200m payment to the International Monetary Fund that was due today – and, despite some hiccups, the pensions and salaries owed government workers as well.
Some of that cash has been found in the bank accounts of independent government agencies, and more recently the government has been trying to raise additional funds by pooling unused reserves from local municipalities – a move that has generated considerable backlash.
But under the radar, the Greek government appears to have found a different, more traditional way to raise extra money: it’s collecting more taxes and spending less money.
According to data released just over a week ago – which was widely overlooked, since it was published the same day as a highly-contentious meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Riga – the Greek government is actually doing even better than it was a year ago in tax revenues, spending reductions, and primary surpluses. Read more
Moghadam, left, with his deputy director Poul Thomsen during a meeting in Brussels
As the eurozone crisis slowly fades into history, many of its most prominent players are moving on as well. On Wednesday, Reza Moghadam, head of the European department at the International Monetary Fund and arguably the fund’s most influential official during the crisis, announced his departure to take a top job at Morgan Stanley in London.
According to officials close to Moghadam, part of his reason for leaving is because he held several of the IMF’s most senior posts over his 22 year career and now could only move laterally to other director positions. In addition, those who have spoken to him said most of his family – including his mother and adult children – now live in the UK and he was eager to return to Britain after more than two decades in Washington.
“Leaving the fund has not been an easy decision and I go with a heavy heart,” Moghadam said in a statement released by the IMF. “But I look forward to a new chapter in my life and a new career, and to being back home in the UK with my family.”
At Morgan Stanley, Moghadam will be vice chairman of the global capital markets group, where he will continue to deal with public finance issues, including working with governments seeking advice on debt or fiscal issues. Because he’s moving into a private-sector job that overlaps with his current duties, he will give up his IMF responsibilities immediately and won’t begin his job in London until October or November. Read more