Judges of the German Constitutional Court (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
In the beginning, the eurozone crisis was a banking sector, private debt and government bond market emergency. Then economic recession, unemployment and welfare expenditure cuts took hold, propelling the growth of anti-EU, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant political movements. Now the eurozone crisis is acquiring a third dimension: one in which national constitutional courts are moving to centre stage.
True, the judges sitting on Germany’s constitutional court have been going in this direction since 2009, when they issued a judgement on the EU’s Lisbon treaty. But before the eurozone crisis erupted in full force, such rulings were fairly uncontroversial. The judges could reasonably argue in 2009 that they were simply testing if the new EU fundamental treaty was compatible with the democratic principles of Germany’s 1949 constitution, known as the Basic Law.
Now that the eurozone crisis has pushed the German government and the European Central Bank into once unimaginable measures to rescue the 17-nation currency bloc, the constitutional court has parked itself on wholly different territory. The judges would indignantly contest this, but when the court opened hearings in June into the legality of the ECB’s actions to protect the eurozone, it looked from the outside very much as if the judges had appointed themselves the supreme law lords of European integration – to the exclusion of any other EU or national legal authority. Read more
♦ The FT’s Martin Wolf asks whether the US is a functioning democracy.
♦ Charles Pierce at Esquire is already convinced that this was to be expected from “the worst Congress in the history of the Republic”.
♦ Russia is spending $755m on bolstering its military as part of Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild the country’s status as a credible diplomatic and military force.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi’s antics now do little to shock the bond markets – an indication that the eurozone crisis has moved decisively into a less aggressive phase, argues the FT’s Ralph Atkins.
♦ India’s Hindu temples are resisting requests from the central bank to declare their gold holdings amid mistrust of authorities trying to cut a hefty import bill.
♦ A new book on the birth of Bangladesh and the White House diplomacy of the time unearths conversations between Nixon and Kissinger that reveal their hateful attitudes towards Indians. Read more
For campaign issues that Germany’s political elite had all but agreed to shy away from, the eurozone debt crisis in general and Greece in particular are proving remarkably capable of generating unscripted campaign trail surprises. Read more
Portugal’s painful austerity programme runs into trouble
Pedro Passos Coelho, Portugal’s prime minister, is one of Europe’s staunchest backers of austerity. But his government’s painful two-year programme of structural adjustment has yet to deliver the results promised. And late last week, the country’s constitutional court issued a ruling that could fatally undermine his efforts to get the economy back on track.
What lies ahead for Cyprus and the eurozone?
After a failed bailout plan that involved taxing the deposits of small savers, Cyprus is now the epicentre of the eurozone crisis. Lawmakers are now seeking an alternative before Monday, when the European Central Bank will cut emergency liquidity to Cyprus’s foundering banks. Kerin Hope, Greece and Cyprus correspondent; Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief; and Patrick Jenkins, banking editor, join Ben Hall to discuss what’s happened and what lies ahead.
Mario Monti exits a voting booth on February 24 (AFP/Getty)
Paul Krugman has got in early to comment on the political demise of Mario Monti – who now seems certain to trail in fourth in the Italian elections. According to Krugman, Monti’s reputation for wisdom is wildly overblown. On the contrary, he more or less deserves his fate because he was “in effect, the proconsul installed by Germany.”
Worse, according to Krugman, Monti’s policies did not even work. As in the rest of southern Europe, the economy has shrunk and so debt-to-GDP ratios have risen. There was only one “piece of good news” in the Monti era – that “bond markets have calmed down.” However, Monti cannot claim the credit even for this, because it is “largely thanks to the stated willingness of the ECB to step in and buy government debt when necessary.”
As ever, with Krugman, the argument is forcefully made. But it misses out a crucial stage in the argument and therefore unfairly denigrates the role of Monti in stabilising the Italian economy. Remember, when Monti came to power, the steady rise in the interest rates that Italy was having to pay to finance its debt was eating up more and more of the Italian budget. There was a real prospect that Italy might simply be unable to finance itself through the bond markets – and that might have sparked a terminal crisis in the euro. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
A rare beast has reappeared in Europe. In recent years, there were no confirmed sightings. But in the past few weeks, this shy animal – known as “good news” – has been spotted in various European locations.
Gideon Rachman blogs on how damaging the trial of Costas Vaxevanis will be for Greece. Read more
President François Hollande at the Elysee palace on October 15 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/GettyImages)
François Hollande’s interview with a group of European newspapers this week makes for interesting reading – particularly if you are in Berlin, as I am. It really serves to emphasise how large the gap between the French and the Germans currently is.
I tried out Hollande’s statement that – “We are near, very near to an end to the eurozone crisis” on a variety of German officials yesterday. This was met with a mixture of wry smiles and incredulity. The most positive reaction I got was from one official who said – “Well, it’s nice there are still some optimists in Europe.” Read more