Financial crisis

 

Speaking on television earlier this year, Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, declared that his government’s budget would not be written to “satisfy Brussels”, adding – “We are a great nation . . . France is a sovereign country.”

Tony Barber

The consensus, such as it is, on the eurozone crisis was neatly summed up on Monday by Hugo Dixon, author and editor at large of Reuters News: “The euro crisis is sleeping, not dead.”

What about the crisis in Greece? Over the past four to five years Europe, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has invested more time, effort and money in Greece than in any other struggling eurozone state. The aim is to reform a country so inefficiently governed, so riddled with corruption and so burdened with debt that it seemed, for certain spells in 2011 and 2012, to pose a threat to the eurozone’s survival.

So it seems reasonable to ask: if this time, effort and money have not changed Greece for the better, what has it all been for? 

David Gardner

The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.

Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.

The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. 

The fragile middle
Decades of rapid growth have created a new middle class in the developing world, prompting multinational companies to invest heavily in emerging markets as they attempt to serve millions of new consumers. But rising inequality and slowing growth has presented a risk to this new middle class and is forcing companies to rethink their strategy. In this week’s podcast, Ferdinando Giugliano is joined by Shawn Donnan, world trade editor and James Kynge, emerging markets editor to discuss this nascent middle class and its prospects in the face of slowing growth

Gideon Rachman

The news that Greece is returning to the markets as an issuer of sovereign-debt is symbolic of the resurgence of interest in Europe among international – and particularly US – investors. As ever there is a circular logic in play here.

Because most investors no longer fear a collapse of the euro, Greece can come back to the markets. And the sight of Greece returning to the markets will confirm the prejudices of those who argue that the crisis in the eurozone is over.

But just as international investors were, in retrospect, too panic-stricken about Europe in 2012 – I suspect they are probably too relaxed now.

Greece’s return to the markets is one striking sign of this. Another is the fact that 5-year Spanish bonds now have a lower yield than their US equivalent – despite the fact that Spain is barely growing, that its budget-deficit continues to bust EU rules, while unemployment is more than 25 per cent. 

By Gideon Rachman
“Whatever it takes.” Mario Draghi’s declaration that he would save the euro could well go down as the most effective three-word statement by a Roman since Julius Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici.

By Gideon Rachman
Germany has surrendered and the euro is saved. That seems to be the markets’ interpretation of last week’s ruling by the German constitutional court on the European Central Bank’s “whatever it takes” policy to save the single currency. The judges’ ruling essentially boiled down to this: “We don’t like what the ECB is doing. We think it illegal. But only the European Court of Justice can strike it down.”

Tony Barber

German Constitutional Court (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

We don’t like what the European Central Bank is doing – but if someone is going to drop a nuclear bomb on the eurozone, it won’t be us. This seems to be the main message in today’s judgment from Germany’s constitutional court on the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme.

The OMT is an initiative aimed at saving the eurozone with large-scale ECB purchases of the bonds of governments vulnerable on financial markets, in return for a commitment to deep-seated economic reforms. Germany’s Bundesbank and much of the German public have never warmed to the OMT – even though the programme has never actually been used and, some experts think, never will be.

So the German court’s judgment will come as a relief to Mario Draghi, the ECB president, and all those who hold that the OMT, unveiled in August and September 2012, is the single most important reason why Europe’s monetary union no longer appears in mortal danger. But mixed with this relief will be a feeling that the German court’s judgement is not entirely helpful – and that some of its arguments are not particularly well-founded. 

Tony Barber

Ask a German politician or pundit to account for the strength of Germany’s economy. I’ll bet you a plate of Nürnberger sausages that he or she will praise the labour market and welfare reforms adopted about 10 years ago by the government of Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s predecessor.

The “Hartz reforms” tightened the terms on which unemployed Germans claim welfare benefits. They laid the emphasis on putting people quickly back into jobs, at lower pay if necessary. Nowadays German unemployment is remarkably low (5.1 per cent of the workforce in December 2013, according to Eurostat, versus 27.8 per cent in Greece, 25.8 per cent in Spain and 12.7 per cent in Italy).

However, some newly published research by four German economists challenges the argument that the Hartz reforms are the main cause of the nation’s economic recovery. Their carefully written study, entitled “From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany’s Resurgent Economy”, should be required reading for everyone concerned with boosting the eurozone’s economic performance.