Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Merkel: Countries will not be kicked out of eurozone

  • Merkel and Van Rompuy have ruled out expelling Greece from the eurozone (Photo: Council)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that kicking countries out of the eurozone is excluded as an option, but that Greece must impose the austerity and restructuring measures that are a condition of the bail-out, or Athens will not receive its latest tranche of rescue funds.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy meanwhile has said that still further political pressure needs to be applied to Greece and Italy to slash their debt levels.

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The German leader’s comments were made privately to her parliamentary colleagues, according to Berlin-based reports. Merkel described the situation in Greece and Italy as “fragile,” according to the Irish Times.

“I’m not even considering the possibility because I think we would start a domino effect that would be extremely dangerous for our currency system,” the paper quotes her as saying.

Instead, the path out of the crisis is austerity and deeper fiscal integration of eurozone states, she said, according to officials.

Heading into a meeting with the chancellor Monday evening, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy echoed Merkel’s comments, saying that the political screws should be tightened still further on Greece and Italy.

“Financial markets see that there are still problems in the execution of plans in Greece and Italy,” he said. “Europe must increase pressure on those countries in order for them to implement the plans they put together.”

He also said that kicking Greece out of the eurozone would “cause more problems than solutions”.

Separately, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, and the head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, set out their visions for the future of the single currency area, with the former attacking arguments that the problem with the European economy is a lack of demand and declared that “austerity is the only cure for the eurozone.”

Writing an opinion piece in the Financial Times, he criticised calls “on the US and Germany to use their supposed ‘fiscal space’ to encourage demand and on European Union leaders to take an immediate leap into a fiscal union and joint liability.

“Piling on more debt now will stunt rather than stimulate growth in the long run,” he wrote

Schaeuble argued that the solution in all western countries is to trim down their public sectors, even if voters are opposed.

“The recipe is as simple as it is hard to implement in practice: western democracies and other countries faced with high levels of debt and deficits need to cut expenditures, increase revenues and remove the structural hindrances in their economies, however politically painful.”

“ There is some concern that fiscal consolidation, a smaller public sector and more flexible labour markets could undermine demand in these countries in the short term. I am not convinced that this is a foregone conclusion,” he added.

He also argued against immediate fiscal union as it would remove the incentive for governments to make structural changes, but instead for more gradual fiscal centralisation that may require “profound treaty changes.”

Outgoing ECB chief Trichet for his part, argued in Paris on Monday for a European “federal government with a federal finance minister."

His successor, Italian central bank head Mario Draghi, called on eurozone state to take a quantum leap towards integration, adding that a key problem with the single currency is a lack of co-ordinated tax policies.

The various visions of the future of European integration came against a background of tumbling shares and soaring peripheral bond yields.

European stocks slid four percent on Monday, with financial shares hit particularly badly.

Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank told a banking conference in Frankfurt the same day that European banks would not be able to handle write-downs of government bonds.

“It is obvious, not to say a truism, that many European banks would not cope with writing down the government bonds held in the banking book to market value,” he said.

Asian shares on Tuesday tumbled. S&P 500 futures in Asia were off 2.7 percent while Greek one-year bond yields climbed to a record 82.1 percent and Italy’s ten-year bonds leapt to 5.56 per cent.

Elsewhere, Slovak finance minister Ivan Miklos told the Financial Times that delaying the vote on extending the powers of the eurozone's bail-out fund would be "counterproductive". His comments came after parliamentary speaker and head of the junior coalition party Richard Sulik said the vote would not be held before December. Sulik's party's support is needed to pass the vote.

China: 'You can't depend on us alone to rescue Greece'

A 'regular' phone call between EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Friday morning was aimed at reassuring markets that China will continue to support the ailing eurozone. But a Chinese diplomat noted that Beijing will only buy those bonds guaranteed to be paid back.

Analysis

Germany's competing visions of Europe

No doubt fed up of being cast as the eurozone's pantomime villainess once again, this time Angela Merkel got her rebuttal in first.

France's Le Maire 'goes German' with austerity budget

The French government announced €10bn in further spending cuts. However, defence spending is set to increase significantly, up to €413bn from €295bn, while €400m was cut from a fund meant for renovating schools, carpooling infrastructure, and other environmental projects.

Online platforms must be liable for payment scams, say MEPs

MEPs have agreed on new rules to level the playing field between banks and non-banks, and to make payments more user-friendly, cheaper and safer — including measures to make online platforms liable for payment fraud that occurs through their services.

France's Le Maire 'goes German' with austerity budget

The French government announced €10bn in further spending cuts. However, defence spending is set to increase significantly, up to €413bn from €295bn, while €400m was cut from a fund meant for renovating schools, carpooling infrastructure, and other environmental projects.

Opinion

The elephant in the room at this weekend's African Union summit

Italy's offer to mobilise €5.5bn over the next years, overwhelmingly in already-allocated loans and guarantees, pales in comparison to the financing challenges faced by Africa. Only an EU-wide coordinated financial offer can credibly respond to African needs.

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