Colm McCarthy writing on these, em, pages, a few days ago explained that Europe’s Plan A–no banks will go under, no states will default on their debts, fiscal consolidation plus recapitalisation will see us through–is being quietly dropped in favour of Plan B. Today at the EU Debt Summit we got a glimpse of what Plan B will look like. (updated to official version).
Briefly, Greece is being allowed to selectively default, but this won’t harm Greek banks (nor their French owners) because the greek bonds will be guaranteed by an enhanced European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) that can intervene in secondary markets amongst other new powers. Other debt-laden member states, including Ireland, will have access to cheaper funds from the uber-EFSF at longer maturities.
The markets liked it too, with bank shares enjoying a nice bounce. There’s some evidence the bounce we saw on the markets was just short equity positions being cleared out, so I wouldn’t take that too seriously as an indicator of how well this new plan will go down. I don’t think many people were surprised at Greece’s default. As macroeconomic events go, the default was pretty well expected, hence the lack of jitters when it was announced.
It is to be welcomed that the Greek default is somewhat orderly and buttressed by other member states’ guarantees to reduce (or avoid completely) balance sheet contagion. What’s not so welcome are some of the phrases used in the draft document. They are vague enough to allow lots of leeway should policy makers require it, but precise enough to guarantee action of some shape or form. All this does is move debate away from ‘what will they do’ to ‘how are they going to do it’, which is unhelpful given the seriousness of the situation. This is, after all, the tenth time EU leaders have met to sort the problems in Europe out ‘once and for all’.
Paragraph 7 of the draft contains the following rather ominous sentence:
To improve the effectiveness of the EFSF and address contagion, we agree to increase the flexibility of the EFSF, allowing it to:
– intervene on the basis of a precautionary programme, with adequate conditionality
That is really worrying language. Does it mean, for example, that the EFSF can require states to implement austerity measures without negotiation with the sovereign? The language is vague enough to be quite scary.
The composition of the new beefed up EFSF isn’t reported. The only place Italy is mentioned in the draft is to get a pat on the back for its recent fiscal consolidation. Is Italy, in its current fragile state, expected to keep its share of the EFSF up? Look at the table on page 1 of this document from the EFSF showing the contributions of member states. Italy is expected to pony up up to 78 billion euros if required. More information on just where this money is coming from would be most welcome.
Another slight worry is that Ireland has agreed to talk about the common consolidated corporate tax base (ccctb), meaning that perhaps there has been a movement in the government’s position on this issue, though agreeing to talk does not mean that Ireland’s corporation tax rate (a different beast) is under threat just yet.
All in all, a lot to discuss in today’s announcements, but I don’t personally feel the EU has solved its problems to the satisfaction of all, though commenters may of course disagree.