Treaty and future of eurozone
This post was written by Frank Barry
I wrote the following background piece in response to a request last week. It’s similar to John’s Compact Logic. My respondent wrote back: “So a Yes will facilitate EU growth policies, the exact opposite of the No position?”. I was also asked about the consequences of a Greek exit:
Adopting the euro as our currency was supposed to give us much greater stability than the fixed exchange rate regimes that preceded it. But if Greece leaves the euro, financial markets will no longer accept at face value a statement by a struggling country such as Ireland that it intends to remain within the single currency. We are likely to see a repeat of the Irish currency crisis of the early 1990s when markets lost their faith in the fixed exchange rate arrangement of the time and Irish short-term interest rates quadrupled over the space of a few months.
Ironically, the currency turmoil of that time was triggered by the outcome of a European treaty referendum but, for once, not one of ours. Everything had been proceeding smoothly towards the eventual introduction of the euro. Financial markets believed that Central Banks would intervene to any extent necessary to defend existing exchange rates and a speculative attack on a currency could not possibly be successful. All changed when Denmark voted no to the euro in June 1992. It was possible that France would do likewise in September. Suddenly the single currency was no longer inevitable. Sterling succumbed to speculative attack and devalued, and attention shifted to Ireland. Over a billion pounds flowed out of Irish financial markets over the course of a few days and short term interest rates soared to almost 60 percent.
The Irish government tried to hold off the speculators. Currency control were reintroduced. The Central Bank raised its lending to the money markets more than twenty-fold to prevent mortgage and commercial interest rates rising by more than 4 to 5 percent. But this could not be sustained over the longer term as all the country’s foreign exchange reserves would be lost. Ireland succumbed to devaluation in January 1993.
The same turmoil, with a run on the banks and a massive risk premium on foreign lending to Ireland, would undoubtedly follow a Greek departure from the euro. The difference in the present case is that where then we had only our own Central Bank, we now have the European Central Bank with its vastly greater firepower.
The fact that numerous other countries would be calling on the firepower of the ECB at the same time, and possibly indefinitely into the future, is why the eurozone powers seem lately to have drawn back from the precipice of countenancing a Greek exit.
The ECB has recently shown itself ready to provide enough liquidity to stave off catastrophe. At the behest of the Americans, the IMF and now the French, the German government now seems to agree that austerity alone on the fiscal side will fail, just as it did in the Great Depression of the 1930s. But can the Germans be expected to run deficits to stimulate the European economy, or countenance eurobonds – which would put their own credit rating at risk – before the rest of the eurozone has promised to limit its borrowing? As a German politician said this week, “you don’t lend your credit card to someone who doesn’t know how to control their spending”.