Archive for the ‘European politics’ Category

Economists and the European democratic deficit

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Friday, July 24th, 2015

I have a column in Critical Quarterly, available here.

More miscellaneous irritations

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Monday, July 13th, 2015

1.  “We averted the plan of a financial choking and banking system collapse.” (Tspiras)

You are the prime minister Mr Tspiras. Did you not have a plan B to deal with ECB blackmail? If not, why not? Did you really think that the others would back down because of the possibility of Grexit, when it was so clear that you would be willing to do almost anything to avoid it?

2. The new (and conveniently self-interested) German doctrine that defaults are impossible within the Eurozone. Remember the no bailout clause? Ashoka Mody is surely right: these negotiations will kill the entire European project sooner or later. Better to let countries default when that is what is required.

3. Nice to hear Merkel saying that Greece may win back her trust. If I were Greek I might not trust European promises regarding debt rescheduling. Have we not heard those before?

4. How high is Greece’s debt to GDP ratio going to be now? Over 200%? Even if there is some reprofiling, does anyone think this makes sense?

All in all a great day for Golden Dawn. As for the rest of us: I don’t suppose that any other left wing party that may come to power in the future seeking to challenge the current European economic policy mix will be as feckless as the Tspiras government. The lesson that they will draw from this debacle is: negotiating with Germany is a waste of time; be willing to act unilaterally, be willing to default unilaterally, have a plan for achieving primary surplus if you haven’t already achieved it, have a hard default and euro exit (now possible, thanks to the Germans) option in your back pocket, and be willing to use it at the first sign of hassle from the ECB. A deal could have been done today that would have strengthened the Eurozone, but instead it has just become a lot more fragile.

Update: Wolfgang Münchau is well worth reading, here.

Update: this is also well worth a read.

Update: Charles Wyplosz is well worth reading here. Good to see someone pointing out the obvious about this extraordinary programme, and also taking on the (to my mind bizarre) argument that the headline debt/GDP ratio is irrelevant.

Update: Dae Woong Kang and Ashoka Mody offer a historical perspective here.

Miscellaneous irritations

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Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

1. I see that Juncker is saying that it is a shame that the Greeks walked out of the negotiations last week; and yet the creditor negotiating stance seems to have been “give us everything we want, and maybe we will discuss what you want (debt relief) at some later date”. For an account of the negotiations, see here.

2. I see that Hugo Dixon was describing the parties that got Greece into this mess over the course of several decades as “pro-European”, implying that Syriza is anti-European. Come again? Since when does opposing a particular policy mix (in this case one that has failed disastrously over the course of several years) make you anti-European?

3. I see that Martin Schulz is now denying having said that a no vote meant that Greece would have to leave the euro.

4. I can’t count the number of times I have heard French friends tell me that the problem is that the Greeks don’t pay taxes. (All Greeks, you understand.) What about Troika officials?

5. Aside altogether from the immense catastrophe of the last several years, Greece’s GDP shrank 0.4% in the last quarter of 2014, before Syriza got to power. Just saying.

6. Like Paul Krugman, I gave a cheer when I read Wolfgang Münchau’s stating the obvious:

What I found most galling was the argument that Grexit would bring about an economic catastrophe, as though the catastrophe had not already happened.

Some of the crocodile tears being shed on Sunday night about the humanitarian catastrophe that the Greeks were now supposedly bringing down on themselves (as if the ECB’s refusal to ensure financial stability in that country is irrelevant) I found pretty hard to take. Where have these humanitarians been hiding for the last seven years?

7. No comment necessary:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Herr Fuest, angenommen, Sie wären wahlberechtigt, wie würden Sie am Sonntag beim griechischen Referendum über die Reformpolitik abstimmen?

Fuest: Mit Ja. Nachdem Ministerpräsident Tsipras sein politisches Schicksal an den Ausgang der Wahl gebunden hat, wäre mein primäres Ziel, ihn und seine Regierung loszuwerden.

8. Faymann: “Europe is known for compromises. Renegotiation until the last minute. Greece didn’t do this when it walked out of negotation.” The Greeks have been making compromises for months; where is the German compromise on debt relief?

There, that feels better.

On the bright side, it seems that around 80% of young Greek voters voted no.

 

 

McCarthy and Mody on what the Greek fiasco tells us about the ECB and IMF

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Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Here, and here.

Three questions arise. Why would any non-European country be willing to accept another European IMF head? Would it not be better for the Europeans themselves if a non-European IMF head provided us with an “adult in the room” at times of crisis? And why would any European be happy living in a monetary union in which a politicized central bank cannot be relied upon to act as a lender of last resort, and in which their guns could be turned on any (sufficiently small) member state in a time of crisis?

A moment of truth for the European project

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Monday, January 26th, 2015

I thought that an appropriate way to celebrate Syriza’s victory was to do what I should have done a long time ago, and finally read Peter Mair’s Ruling the Void on the journey from Dublin to Oxford this morning. It’s a terrifically insightful (and readable, and short) book that had me nodding in agreement throughout, and you could base a whole series of blog posts on it. So let me just pick up, on the day that is in it, on one of the very last points made in the book:

…we are afforded a right to participate at the European level…and we are afforded the right to be represented in Europe, even if it is sometimes difficult to work out when and how this representative link functions; but we are not afforded the right to organise opposition within the European polity. There is no government-opposition nexus at this level.  We know that a failure to allow for opposition within the polity is likely to lead either (a) to the elimination of meaningful opposition, and to more or less total submission, or (b) to the mobilisation of an opposition of principle against the polity — to anti-European opposition and to Euroscepticism

Democratic political systems need oppositions which can force policy reversals if voters decide that that is what they want. Kicking the bums out is not enough, we have to be able to kick out their policies as well.

Syriza is opposed to European macroeconomic policy, and won the elections on that basis. They speak for lots of Eurozone voters, not just Greek ones. If the EU have any sense they will not play hardball with the new Greek government, especially since just about everyone agrees that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. Nor should anyone be hoping that the new Greek government will be “pragmatic”, and forget its opposition pledges once in government. The Greeks want fundamental change, and have voted for a democratic pro-European party to express that desire — which, you might think, is a lot more than the Troika deserves. If Syriza doesn’t deliver, for fear of upsetting its Eurozone partners, voters may turn to parties that really are anti-European. In the Greek context, that could be very ugly indeed.

How the EU responds to last night’s election will tell us a lot about the actually existing European project.

Quote of the day

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Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

 “One must prevent the dealings of the ECB from easing the pressure for improvements in competitiveness.” 

(Angela Merkel, according to the FT.)

It is very good to see this sentiment being openly expressed by the German leader, since it is what we believe the German government thinks, and confirmation is useful. But, really, it is intolerable. Where in the treaties does it say that Eurozone monetary policy should be run in a sub-optimal and deflationary manner, thus increasing unemployment, putting the public finances under pressure and worsening economic distress more generally, so as to force other peoples’ governments to do things that the Germans think are good for them, but that have nothing to do with monetary policy?

No democrat should accept a Eurozone run along those lines.

Sinking, fast and slow

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Saturday, October 11th, 2014

For well over a year now some of us have been pointing out that the Eurozone crisis was entering a very dangerous phase, in which slowly increasing unemployment would eat away at the foundations of Europe’s societies, while short-sighted politicians and excitable journalists proclaimed that the Euro was saved. The invaluable Eurointelligence has been doing a great job recently tracking the apparently inexorable deterioration in the economic fundamentals of the Eurozone, with Germany itself now apparently affected. But for both political and personal reasons I find myself worrying most about France.

Twiddling their thumbs and hoping that something (the economy) will turn up, flawed macroeconomic policy notwithstanding, seems to have been the French government’s master plan up till now. As a result it is hard to see Francois “Say” Hollande, or any other Socialist for that matter, getting through to the second round in 2017.

You may think that Paul Krugman is being too alarmist when he raises the possibility of President Le Pen, and I hope you are right. But Sarokozy’s apparent return to the political fray does worry me. Of course, you may think that if he wins the UMP nomination, the Left will rally round and vote for him when it comes to the second round.

How confident are you about that?

Balanced budget tax cuts

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Friday, September 5th, 2014

In his press conference yesterday, Mario Draghi said the following:

Within the Stability and Growth Pact, one could do things that are growth-friendly and also would contribute to budget consolidation, and I gave an example of a balanced budget tax cut. Reducing taxes that are especially distortionary, where the short-term multipliers could be higher, and cutting expenditure in the most unproductive parts, so mostly, actually not mostly, entirely, current government expenditure.

There are at least three possible interpretations of this statement.

1. Draghi genuinely thinks that balanced budget multipliers are negative, which I find hard to believe. A balanced budget tax cut under current circumstances would be contractionary, not expansionary; at least, that is what we teach our students.

2. Draghi genuinely thinks that the Eurozone’s problems right now are on the supply side, and that tax cuts will help address these problems. I also find that hard to believe. The major problems facing the Eurozone right now are pretty clearly on the demand side.

3. Despite its nominal independence, the ECB is in fact the most politically constrained of the major central banks. If Draghi is going to push the ECB towards QE, and question the overall fiscal stance of the Eurozone, he has to come out with this sort of stuff from time to time, to appease the Germans.

I find the last of these three explanations entirely plausible, and it helps explain the ECB’s poor performance in the crisis to date. But why should a nominally independent central bank feel that its hand are tied in this way? Ultimately, perhaps, because the Eurozone is not a political union, and because democratic legitimacy resides at the level of the member states. This means that exit from the Eurozone is always an option, even if it is not openly acknowledged.

Another reason to think that monetary union without political union is a bad idea.

Orphanides: the Eurozone crisis is political

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Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Here.

Money quote:

European Institutions also face the risk of political capture by the governments of specific member states that could misuse the crisis for local political gain.

 

Just gimme some choice

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Thursday, May 29th, 2014

The Irish Times this morning describes the increased vote for independents as an expression of anti-politics sentiment.

Anti-establishment-politician sentiment, certainly, but anti-politics? That depends on how you define politics.

My definition of “politics” is all about choice over policies: citizens in a democracy can choose to fundamentally change their country’s economic and social policies, if that is what they want to do. In 2011 Irish voters voted for change, and got none: the new government faithfully implemented the Troika programme, just as the previous government had done, and presumably would have continued to do had they been re-elected. (And now that they have been let off the leash they are coming up with bubble-era proposals to increase mortgage lending. Not much change there either. And consequently not much real choice.)

Democracy without choice is not democracy. Politics without choice is not politics.

A lot of people in this country, and right across Europe, want real change. Some in Ireland voted for Sinn Féin, the big winner in the election. Some voted Independent. This isn’t anti-politics. It’s anti-anti-politics.

The FT is on a roll

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Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

In an otherwise unremarkable editorial about the upshot of the elections, the FT comes up with this quite remarkable statement:

The only viable path for France is to press ahead with tax cuts and spending reductions that can sustain growth.

Is the FT really saying that in a Keynesian short run, such as we find ourselves in just now, the balanced budget multiplier is negative? Really? Or that the spending multiplier is negative? Or is it perhaps denying that the Eurozone currently finds itself in such a Keynesian short run, in which a lack of demand is the key constraint on growth? (Let’s not even get into the debate about the long run relationship between growth and the size of the state in Europe, although I can’t help writing down one word: Scandinavia.)

And is the FT really claiming that continuing with this programme would make all those FN voters switch to the socialists and UMP?

Really?

Canaries in the coal mine

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Monday, May 26th, 2014

The European election results are coming in, and in France they are catastrophic.

There are two obvious points to be made which work in opposite directions.

First, the vote for the FN and similar parties is an under-estimate of eurosceptic opinion, since these parties come with so much baggage that many voters who hate what Europe has become would never, ever dream of voting for them. And quite right too.

Second, it may well be that these parties would have done less well if there had been national elections last weekend: voting for the EP is one thing, voting for national governments another. (But who really knows.)

Expect many mainstream commentators to point out that the centre has held, that the EPP have won, that Juncker is the people’s choice for EC President, and all the rest of it. This strikes me as exactly the wrong response.

My big worry this Monday morning is that Hollande and others (but I am mainly thinking of Hollande) will continue with their current economic strategy, which as far as I can see consists of crossing their fingers and hoping that something will turn up. Yes, some day this recession will end, since all recessions do, but the timing of this will depend (probabilistically, since life is uncertain) on policies: monetary and fiscal policies, obviously, but also policies to fix the European banking sector. Right now, given Europe’s policy choices, there is no good reason for the French government, or any other government, to expect that the real Eurozone economic crisis (which has to do with growth and unemployment, not yields on government paper) is going to end any time soon. And certainly not by 2017.

M. Hollande and his like may believe that sticking to the programme is their only option, and that any other course of action would be far too risky. They should ask themselves what the political landscape will look like if the Eurozone crisis continues for another 3, 5 or 10 years. It’s not impossible. Perhaps something will turn up, and perhaps the status quo merchants will get away with it. But perhaps it won’t, and perhaps they won’t.

People who argue that there is no alternative presumably see themselves as prudent and responsible. But you could just as easily regard them as drunken gamblers on a losing streak, forever doubling up.

Why vote for a left wing party so they can implement right wing policy that doesn’t even work?

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Not irrelevant in Ireland. AEP, here.

De Grauwe and Ji on those yields

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Friday, May 16th, 2014

Here.

(H/T Eurointelligence.)

Gosh, isn’t that exciting!

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Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

In a recent post, we read that

With the Social Democrats (S&D) and the conservatives (EPP) neck-and-neck in ever more refined EU wide opinion pools, the lead up to the European elections has never been more exciting. It’s down to one seat whether the next Commission president is Social Democrat or Conservative.

I am sure that there are some in Brussels who think that giving voters an indirect say in who becomes Commission President is exactly what we need to boost interest in the forthcoming European elections, and give the European project some democratic legitimacy.

By the way, does anyone know what the EPP or Social Democratic position on the Eurozone crisis is? (I think I know what Marine Le Pen wants.)

I have another proposal to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the project: allow voters to fundamentally change the direction of policy, should they so choose. Reverse the “treaty-isation” of particular economic policies. Stop trying to make the commitment to austerity democracy-proof.

Any takers?

The future of the euro

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Thursday, February 27th, 2014

I have a piece on the subject in the most recent issue of Finance and Development, available here.

Production lags being what they are, I wrote the article in mid-December. Since then, Wolfgang Münchau has declared the Eurozone policy debate over (and not in a  good way); the German Constitutional Court has issued a ruling on OMT that is potentially much less benign than is commonly assumed; and Italy has installed its third non-elected Prime Minister in a row, with a notorious multiplier denier as Finance Minister thrown in for good measure. None of this has cheered me up.

Class divides and European integration, yet again

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Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This morning’s Eurointelligence briefing put me on to this article in Les Echos, which in turn led me to this Ipsos opinion poll. It contains several sobering findings, notably with respect to foreigners. But the finding that struck me most — since this is something I have been writing about for years now — is that a majority of French working class voters now want to leave the Euro. Indeed, only 34% of French workers think that EU membership is a good thing.

Isn’t it amazing how short run blips in various economic indicators can lead powerful people to assume that all is well with the EMU project? It is slow moving variables — long term unemployment, gradual shifts in public opinion, and so on — that pose the greatest threat to the Euro’s survival. If the far right does as well as people now seem to think it will in the European elections, this will presumably be presented in the media as a “shock” to the system, but has it not been obvious since 2010 at the latest that something like this was likely, given Eurozone macroeconomic policies? And has it not been obvious for years that actually existing EMU is harming the broader European project?

Europe’s political leaders should remember what Ernest Hemingway said about bankruptcy.

The Eiffel group: for a Euro community

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Friday, February 14th, 2014

Here.

I dare say it will strike most people as pie in the sky, but it makes sense that people who want to preserve the Euro start formulating proposals such as this. Two reasonable conditions attaching to any such proposal seem to me to be that: (a) entry to any such community be decided by popular referenda in each country; and (b) that there be some sort of Connecticut compromise in place so that the rights of small states are protected.

‘Hardball’ v ‘Equity Sale’

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

The Irish Times today features two contrasting strategies for dealing with the debt legacy created by the Irish bank bailout.

An interview RTE’s Sean Whelan did with Willem Buiter is available here.

L’offre crée même la demande.

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Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I can’t quite believe that he said it, but he apparently did. Go tell it to the small businesses in my favourite French village who have had to close since 2008.

Arguing against Say at a time like this is like shooting fish in a barrel, so let’s not even bother. The more alarming point is what this tells us about the European left: to all intents and purposes, in many countries there is none. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard puts it well, I think:

Trade unions in the West are strangely silent, pushed to the margins by the atomised structure of modern work. Europe’s political Left is so compromised by ideological defence of monetary union – a Right-wing project, or “bankers’ ramp” as the Old Left used to say – that it cannot muster any articulate policy.

Hollande’s extraordinary statement that supply creates its own demand, at a time when the Eurozone economy is up against the zero lower bound, and unemployment is terrifyingly high in several EMU member states, is just an extreme, self-satirizing, example of the phenomenon. If what Europe needs is for France to make Germany an offer it can’t refuse — allow the ECB to seriously loosen monetary policy, or we may not be able to stick with EMU — then we’re not getting it any time soon.

Now, if you’re on the right I suppose you might welcome the fact that the left is committing hara kiri on the altar of European orthodoxy, but you shouldn’t. For the reality is that orthodoxy is letting the people badly down, as Martin Wolf pointed out today, and the people aren’t stupid. If the left is not going to offer them an alternative, then Eurosceptic parties will. And unfortunately most of those are on the extreme right.

(H/T Mark Thoma.)

Ashoka Mody: A Schuman compact for the euro area

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Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Ashoka Mody has a new Bruegel essay proposing a “Schuman compact” for the Euro area, available here.

Economic policy: voters versus men in white coats

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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Eurointelligence’s news briefing this morning (the professional edition) had a really excellent comment regarding the news that Jeroen Dijsselbloem is proposing that the stability pact be reformed, so as to link flexibility on deficit correction to “economic reform”. The question is, of course, what constitutes “economic reform.” Says Eurointelligence:

We recall that the expression „economic reforms“ had the exact opposite meaning in the 1970s – a reduction in market liberalism, more regulation, more workers rights. Economic reforms is always a political process. Is Dijsselbloem saying that decision on labour market organisations, for example, should be done at central level, and if not, who decides what reforms are desirable, and what constitutes reform? Say, the Commission enters into a “contract” with a country on certain types of reforms, what would stop a newly elected parliament in that country from breaking such a contract? In German constitutional law, for example, the parliament’s sovereignty would always rank above such contracts. One of the lessons of the eurozone’s short history is that one should not put currently fashionable ideological positions into a treaty or a law.

It is one thing to say that monetary policy should be the preserve of technocrats. You can also make a case that the same should be true of governments’ overall fiscal stances (although as soon as you get into questions of taxation and expenditure, you are beginning to trespass on matters that should properly be dealt with by democratically elected parliaments; and there are also the questions of whether the beurocrats in charge know what they are doing, and whom they are listening to). But the balance between expenditure cuts and tax increases in a deficit reduction programme? The composition of taxes or expenditures in normal times? Microeconomic regulations influencing the balance of power between employers and workers? These are political matters, on which the right and the left have legitimate disagreements (and, besides, economists know a lot less about a lot of this stuff than they sometimes pretend). Sorting out these disagreements is a core function of any modern democracy.

If, as a technical matter, the Eurozone requires at least some degree of fiscal union, and if, as a political matter, a big obstacle to this is citizens’ distrust of “Europe”, then measures which can be seen as attempted power-grabs by the centre at the expense of voters would seem to be directly counter-productive. Not everything in the economic life of a nation is a purely technical matter; we should be trying to convince voters that the Euro, and the EU itself, are compatible with the principle that our votes count for something, and that we can change policies that we don’t like, no matter how “technically desirable” they are thought to be in 2013 by the OECD or IMF or EC or whoever it is. Make the electorate feel disenfranchised, and you play into the hands of the populists.

Where in Donegal?

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Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

This document reached me by way of the European Commission. It shows that some people are working hard to convince the Commission that Bogtec is a transnational infrastructure project of European importance (and thus qualifies for subsidies). It also shows that the Spirit of Ireland refuses to die.

There is mention of a glacial valley near Kilcar, Co Donegal. A dam, 1300 meters wide and 120 meters high (in the middle), would create an upper reservoir with a surface of 4 squared kilometers; assuming that the valley is triangular, the reservoir would be 6150 meters long. The sea would be the lower reservoir. Surplus wind power would pump the water from the sea into the reservoir. Releasing the water back into the sea, power would be generated when there’s demand.

I’ve been hiking in Donegal only a few times. Is there a glacial valley near the sea, of the above dimensions, uninhabited, and not full of archaeological treasure?

UPDATE: I’ve had one vote for Glenaddragh River Valley, which is a good way from the sea.

UPDATE2: Another correspondent forwarded this map, discussed by Donegal County Council. The hydro plan was apparently rejected as it failed to meet the requirements of the SEA Directive on procedural grounds.

Swords v DCENR

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Saturday, April 20th, 2013

The case of Pat Swords versus the Department of Energy etc continues. See here and here for its history. The media is strangely quiet. At stake is an injunction to halt the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), but this case has ramifications for all relations between the rulers and the ruled, and for Ireland’ sovereignty.

There have been two sessions of the High Court, one on April 12 and one of April 16.

State argued that the case should be thrown out because the Aarhus Convention does not apply as it had not been ratified at the time the NREAP was accepted by the European Commission in 2010. This argument was rejected. Even though Ireland did not ratify the Aarhus Convention until 2012, the European Union had ratified it in 2005. Therefore, Ireland must comply with Aarhus.

Read that again: Ireland is subject to an international treaty it did not ratify.

The session is adjourned till June. State now has to engage substantively with the ruling of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, which has that Ireland failed to properly inform its citizens about NREAP and its impact and did not allow them sufficient time to engage with policy making.

Political asymmetries and EMU

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Thursday, March 28th, 2013

In a must-read article, Chris Pissarides states that “far from the currency bloc acting as a partnership of equals, it is a disjointed group of countries where the national interests of the big nations stand higher than the interests of the whole.”

This sums up perfectly where the European project is today. Indeed, there isn’t even solidarity among the smaller countries, as Malta and Luxembourg seek to distance themselves from Cyprus, reminding us of many similar protestations by individual PIIGS in the past, Ireland included. Not that it did any of them any good.

Was it not bizarre to see so many anti-German posters in Nicosia last week, when by all accounts it was the Cypriot President (among others) who wanted to see small depositors hit? Actually, no, it wasn’t. We have seen several statements by German politicians saying that the Cypriot business model is dead, and I’m sorry, but irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the issue this is simply unacceptable. The IMF has the right, and duty, to opine on such matters. So does the ECB, which is supposed to care about financial stability, whatever about how it behaves in practice. Perhaps one could find a rationale for the Commission, or maybe even the Eurogroup, to express an opinion on matters such as this. But an individual member state? Formally speaking, and in any club such formalities matter, it’s none of their business. Even if it is an election year.

The EU is supposed to work according to a set of well-understood principles. If we want to re-regulate the banking sector, and we should, then the recent decision to cap bankers’ bonuses is an example of how the system is supposed to work (again, irrespective of the merits of the issue). There are proposals, there is a vote, there is a decision. Fine. I’ll have more of that please.

But that is not what we are seeing here.

It might be less difficult to swallow if the German government were caped crusaders seeking to bring the entire European financial system to heel. But we all know who has been undermining the drive to have a meaningful European system of banking supervision, and it isn’t Cyprus. And is Mr Schaüble really going to try to prevent German banks from touting for business in that island, as the FT recently reported? I don’t think so. None of this means that Merkel and Schaüble are any worse than anyone else’s politicians, but if you are the arbiter of other countries’ fates, and you aren’t any better either, then there’s going to be a backlash. Which is terrible news for Germany in the long run.

My quote of the week is from another must-read article, this time by Wolfgang Münchau, who says that

I have believed for some time that it is impossible for Germany, Finland and the Netherlands to be in a monetary union with Cyprus, Greece and Portugal. Either the two sides agree to adjust more symmetrically, politically and economically, or this experiment should end.

The argument about economically asymmetric adjustment has at this stage been done to death, and almost everyone understands it, although the German government remains resolutely, proudly, and vocally, macroeconomically illiterate. Another reason why anti-German posters at mass demonstrations are something that we will have to get used to, which is tragic. But Wolfgang’s point about politically asymmetric adjustment is just as important, and gets to the heart of the matter.

When the EU club works according to its rules, people accept the outcomes, but in crises policies are made on the hoof, and it is the powerful who call the shots. This is inevitable, but it is also very dangerous, especially since the decisions that are made at times like this have a much bigger impact on peoples’ lives than anything that typically comes out of Brussels. We have been in crisis mode for much too long now, the crisis shows no signs of going away any time soon, and the political asymmetry is becoming intolerable.

A meaningful banking union, that had the power to stick its nose into the German banking system, and had a set of ex ante mutually agreed principles regarding how to resolve banks in all member states, would help reduce political asymmetries. More expansionary monetary and fiscal policies would help make economic adjustment more symmetric. I suspect we’re going to get neither, in which case we need to end the EMU experiment before it drags the broader European project down with it.

The political benefits of staying in the Euro

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Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

On balance I agree with Paul Krugman’s views on whether Cyprus should leave the euro or not. And most people seem to also agree with him that there will be a Cypriot public debt crisis in the not too distant future. Given what is about to happen to their GDP, how could it be otherwise?

As regards the political benefits to Cyprus of staying in the Eurozone, which Paul advances as a possible counter-argument: the Telegraph links to a piece from the Netherlands suggesting that the EU is contemplating earmarking those future Cypriot gas revenues the island has been looking forward to, to ensure that the Troika gets its money back.

Completely logical, and utterly destructive.

Ireland v Pat Swords

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Monday, March 4th, 2013

It has been several years since I first came across Pat Swords. Pat demanded access to wind energy modeling work that he thought the ESRI had done but not published. There were many layers to our reply. The ESRI is not covered by Freedom of Information legislation. At the time, Ireland had not yet ratified the Aarhus Convention on Access to Environmental Information, so that did not apply either (but see below). Although it would have been appropriate for the ESRI to do a detailed study of the pros and cons of subsidizing wind energy, we had not. And no, we were not aware of someone else having done such a study either. There is no ex ante evaluation of wind energy subsidies in Ireland, and no ex post evaluation either. (And lest people protest, I am aware of a number of partial studies, and a number of not-independent ones.)

Pat lost interest in the ESRI, but not in wind policy. He asked every institution in Ireland he could think of “why do we subsidize wind?” Some replied in the vein of “because we do, now go away”. Others did not respond. So Pat asked the European Commission, with the same result. Although we do generously subsidize wind power, no official was able to satisfactorily answer why.

So Pat went to the United Nations. It first ruled that, because the European Union has ratified the Aarhus Convention and because wind policy is dictated by Brussels, Ireland’s wind policy is bound by the Aarhus Convention – a treaty Ireland had not ratified at the time.

The Aarhus Convention is not at all about wind. It is about public policy. The Aarhus Compliance Committee ruled that Ireland had failed to give its residents a proper say in the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP). Two failures were identified. First, there was insufficient information to inform a reasoned decision. Second, there was insufficient time given to deliberate and, if need be, protest.

The Committee did not say whether wind power is good or bad. It did say that decisions on wind power are dodgy.

This is a remarkable result in and of itself. The Irish government cannot justify policy decisions with a few half-baked arguments and ram it through the Dail. It often does, but there is now a precedent to call an end to such practice.

The story does not end here. Pat took the UN ruling to the High Court and asked for a judicial review of the NREAP. The judge agreed that there is prima facie evidence that things are not kosher and called a hearing, which is due to reconvene on March 13.

The government’s defense is that Pat’s protest comes far too late, ignoring that all his earlier protests were put aside and ignoring the UN ruling that insufficient time was granted in the first place. The government also argues that the EU has accepted the NREAP, ignoring that the UN ruled that the European Commission was just as much in the wrong as the Irish government.

Inexcusably, the government asked the court to be granted legal costs if they win. If he loses, Pat may have to pay the government’s lawyers.

Such bullying tactics may soon come to an end through another lawsuit, but they have not yet. It is immoral, though, that the mighty government seeks to throttle a judicial review by threatening to bankrupt a citizen who exercises his democratic right.

The government’s behaviour suggests that it knows it cannot defend its case for subsidies for wind power. Carbon dioxide emissions from power generation are indeed already adequately regulated by the EU Emissions Trading System. There is no reason to put subsidies on top. Many Irish households and companies would probably welcome cheaper electricity.

Pat comments on this case here.

America, Britain and Europe

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Monday, January 14th, 2013

I see that some people in Britain are in a bit of a kerfuffle about recent indications that the Americans would not be pleased if they left the EU. So it seems appropriate to quote at length from a well-known passage by Miriam Camps (1964, pp. 336-7):

Early in April [1961], Mr. Macmillan went to Washington for talks with the new Administration. Although he had met the new President at Palm Beach in connexion with the Laos crisis, the April visit was the first opportunity for a general review of common problems, and Britain’s relations with the Common Market was obviously one of the matters which Mr. Macmillan wanted to discuss. The available evidence suggests that Mr. Macmillan asked Mr. Kennedy a hypothetical question: ‘What would be your reaction if we decided to join the EEC?’ and that he was given an enthusiastic affirmative answer. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Macmillan was ‘pushed’ by Mr. Kennedy, as was alleged, and denied, at various times. But it is clear that Mr. Kennedy left no doubt in Mr. Macmillan’s mind that a British decision to join the Six would be welcome and that Mr. Macmillan left Washington convinced that, far from straining Anglo-American relations, Britain’s joining the Community might well lead to much closer and more far-reaching transatlantic links than the British could hope to achieve in other ways. The reflection that the shortest, and perhaps the only, way to a real Atlantic partnership lay through Britain’s joining the Common Market seems to have been a very important — perhaps the controlling — element in Mr. Macmillan’s own decision that the right course for the United Kingdom was to apply for membership. Mr. Kennedy’s warm response undoubtedly strengthened Mr. Macmillan’s own conviction that joining was the right course of action and encouraged him to continue his efforts to bring the sceptics in the Cabinet to accept this view. Also, like the discussions with General de Gaulle and Dr. Adenauer earlier in the year, the discussions with the United States Administration underlined, once again, the fact that ‘association’ arrangements were not likely to be negotiable. It was clear that the United States was prepared to accept the additional commercial ‘discrimination’ against itself because of the political advantages it saw in British membership in the Community, but that it would be hostile to arrangements short of membership which, in its view, would simply increase ‘discrimination’ but would not, like full membership, add to the political stability of the Community or strengthen the ‘Atlantic’ orientation of the new power-complex the Six were clearly coming to be.

Coase versus Pigou and Eurozone Bank Resolution Policy

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Friday, December 7th, 2012

Brian O’Kelly and I have a new policy paper on Eurozone bank resolution; it is in the Special Papers series produced by the Financial Markets Group at LSE.

(more…)

Paul Mason on Golden Dawn

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Thursday, October 18th, 2012

It would be a good thing if the leaders meeting in Brussels today were to take reports like this one seriously.