A STAFF REPORT [Der Spiegel] – In the past 14 months, politicians in the euro-zone nations have adopted one bailout package after the next, convening for hectic summit meetings, wrangling over lazy compromises and building up risks of gigantic dimensions.
For just as long, they have been avoiding an important conclusion, namely that things cannot continue this way. The old euro no longer exists in its intended form, and the European Monetary Union isn’t working. We need a Plan B.
Instead, those in responsible positions are getting bogged down in crisis management, as they seek to placate the public and sugarcoat the problems. They say that there is only a government debt crisis in a few euro countries but no euro crisis, citing as evidence the fact that the value of the European common currency has remained relatively stable against other currencies like the dollar.
But if it wasn’t for the euro, Greece’s debt crisis would be an isolated problem — one that was tough for the country, but easy for Europe to bear. It is only because Greece is part of the euro zone that Athens’ debts are a problem for all of its partners — and pose a threat to the common currency.
If the rest of Europe abandons Greece, the crisis could spin out of control, spreading from one weak euro-zone country to the next. Investors would have no guarantees that Europe would not withdraw its support from Portugal or Ireland, if push came to shove, and they would sell their government bonds. The prices of these bonds would fall and risk premiums would go up. Then these countries would only be able to drum up fresh capital by paying high interest rates, which would only augment their existing budget problems. It’s possible that they would no longer be able to raise any money at all, in which case they would become insolvent.
But if the current situation continues, the monetary union will invariably turn into a transfer union, a path the inventors of the euro were determined to prevent.