Following the hugely successful auction of Irish bail-out bonds Tuesday, Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone agency that raised the cash, said the offering “confirms confidence in the strategy adopted to restore financial stability in the euro area”. But is that really what investors were telling us?
To be sure, the first-ever use of the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, was an unmitigated victory for Regling and his nascent organisation – though, let’s remember, that the agency which actually did the heavy lifting was Germany’s debt agency, which is rather experienced in such auctions.
And investors would not have flocked to the issue – some €44.5bn in orders came in for a €5bn offering – if the markets thought the euro was about to implode.
But as my London-based colleague and sovereign debt savant David Oakley quoted one fund manager saying: “We are buyers of this bond because it is very safe and offers extra yield over German Bunds.” Which seems to be the prime motivator here. Read more
The statement issued last night by the Eurogroup finance ministers referred to the “fiscal adjustment” and “structural reform” that Ireland will have to undertake as a condition for tens of billions of euros in emergency loans.
But Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, put it more bluntly in his own statement. “Ireland will have to cut fast and deep,” Mr De Jager said. As if that were not unpleasant enough, he ominously added that “The IMF will have a prominent role in drawing up the aid package.” Read more
After days of internecine sniping between leaders of the 16 eurozone countries over Ireland’s debt crisis, officials involved in Tuesday night’s marathon meeting of finance ministers from the euro group say that their session was free of the kind of drama that many had feared heading into the summit.
Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish finance minister who is also the chief economic spokesman for the centre-right caucus of European political parties, called the discussion “pragmatic” and said it focused on the Irish banking sector and how any aid would help restructure it in a way that could stop the bleeding. Read more
Brussels bureau chief Peter Spiegel says Ireland and Portugal face a grilling on their budgets at the meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, and that pressure is building on these countries to take rescue aid, as fear of debt contagion across the eurozone increases.
One of the unwritten rules of a financial panic seems to be that the more severe a crisis is, the more scripted and repetitive public officials become. Read more
The euro has fallen by almost 20 per cent against the dollar since last November, and the general view in Europe is that this is good news – indeed, one of the few pieces of good economic news to have come Europe’s way recently. The argument goes as follows: euro weakness = more European exports = higher European economic growth.
Unfortunately, the real world is not as simple as that. Inside the 16-nation eurozone, not every country benefits equally from the euro’s decline on foreign exchange markets. As Carsten Brzeski of ING bank explains, what matters is not so much bilateral exchange rates as real effective exchange rates. These take into account relative price developments and trade patterns, and their message for the eurozone is far from reassuring. Read more
How can Greece dig itself out of crisis? From the sunny shores of south-eastern Europe, it could do worse than take a look at the windswept, north-western corner of the continent and study what the Irish government is doing.
As I noted last week, Greece, in spite of the disastrous condition of its public finances, has hardly suffered at all so far in terms of the living standards of ordinary citizens. Gross domestic product is thought to have slipped by a mere 1.1 per cent last year. By contrast, Ireland has experienced a vicious recession: between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, Irish GDP slumped by more than 10 per cent. Read more
Greece’s fiscal emergency is a most mystifying crisis. At one level, it is the most serious test of the eurozone’s unity since the launch of the euro in 1999. Unless correctly handled, the problem with Greece’s public finances could shake the foundations of Europe’s monetary union.
At another level, however, Greece itself seems to be getting off remarkably lightly. Germany suffered a 5 per cent slump in gross domestic product last year; Greece is expected to have suffered a fall of about 1.1 per cent. Spain has a 19 per cent unemployment rate; Greece’s rate is only 9 per cent. The Irish government is imposing extreme austerity measures on its citizens to protect Ireland’s eurozone membership; Greece’s government is, so far, doing nothing of the sort. No wonder Greece’s 15 eurozone partners, the European Commission and the European Central Bank are furious with the political classes in Athens. Read more
The distance separating Britain’s perceptions of the European Union from those of its Continental partners is so vast that the English Channel might as well be the Pacific Ocean. This was my first thought when I read not just David Cameron’s speech on what steps a future Conservative government would take to limit EU involvement in British affairs, but also the way the speech was reported and the reactions on each side of the Channel.
The Financial Times story, for instance, said Cameron’s speech set out “a very limited programme for European reform” – an interpretation which would raise howls of laughter across much of Europe, where the Conservative leader’s proposals are not viewed as “very limited” and are most definitely not seen as an effort at “reform”. Read more
There is something fishy about the race to fill two of the biggest jobs going in Europe – the first long-term presidency of the European Union, and the post of EU foreign policy chief. The closer the EU gets to decision time, the more various unofficial candidates are ruling themselves out or running into difficulties. As far as concerns the presidency, the latest person to say she doesn’t want to be considered for the job is Mary Robinson, the former Irish head of state.
In some ways, it’s a shame. The politically independent Robinson commands much respect across Europe and beyond – more than certain candidates I could mention from Belgium and Luxembourg. It would also be a clever move on the part of the EU’s 27 leaders to put a woman in the presidency and so boost the EU’s profile in the eyes of its citizens. Read more