Friday, May 18, 2012

Once More Into the Breach....

On July 1 the new European Stability Mechanism Fund comes into effect.  It is a more robust attempt to resolve the financial crises that has the Euro on the ropes.  But it is also a key date because in June, Greeks will go to the polls again and if they vote the same way, or even strengthen the anti-austerity parties to the extent they can form a government, then after July either the German led team of austerity believers will blink or Greece will set in motion the withdrawal from the Eurozone.   Because, austerity plans are now a social and economic disaster for Greece, Spain and Portugal.  Actually, austerity is not a plan at all – it is a knee-jerk reaction by the rich and powerful to retain that power at the expense of the periphery in Europe which requires a growth plan – not more austerity and unemployment that it brings.
Germany seems to think that threats are the order of the day.  They seem to forget that the Greek voter makes the choices – not Berlin.  Enough economists have said that the German led austerity program is bogus that perhaps Merkel and her ever diminishing circle of allies should sit down and come up with a compromise because by staying in the Euro, Greece will never recover economically because it will be forced to use a foreign currency within a group of wildly differing economies.  The system does not work.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Euro-zone's finance ministers, criticized those who seem to think that threats against Greece were appropriate.  He said that Greek voters must be respected.  Mr. Juncker however, is leaving and thus can easily speak his own mind.  The problem is that the other ministers – Finland comes to mind – are fully supportive of the current policy and their tone to Greece is not diplomatic.  This is a gross mistake because people in general don’t respond well to threats and being treated like children. These same ministers praise Ireland and Portugal for keeping to the austerity route. The problem is that Ireland had no sovereign debt crises – it, like Spain is all private debt.  Frankly, anyone who thinks that Ireland is improving or stable is running a high fever. Spain’s banks are in trouble because of a housing bubble that burst in spectacular fashion and an unemployment rate over 25%.  Austerity is not the solution for Spain.
Coming back to Greece though, is the question of who will replace Juncker?  At the head of the pack is none other than Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister and someone heavily invested into austerity and maintaining German export superiority.  Freshly elected Hollande is unlikely to be enthusiastic about having a German in that spot as he campaigned promoting a growth, not contraction policy.  Putting Schäuble into the driver’s seat is likely to send Greece really over the edge.
In June, Europe will know which way Greece is going.  Withdrawal from the Euro will help Greece, hurt banks and embarrass the EU (read, Germany).  But frankly, it will give Greece the chance to become competitive again.  Hopefully, there is a semblance of a plan in place to deal with the exit.

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