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European sovereign-debt crisis

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

European sovereign-debt crisis

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Late-2000s financial crisis

Long-term interest rates of all eurozone countries except Estonia (secondary market yields of government bonds with maturities of close to ten years)[1] A yield of 6 % or more indicates that financial markets have serious doubts about credit-worthiness.[2]

The European sovereign debt crisis is an ongoing financial crisis that has made it difficult or impossible for some countries in the euro area tore-finance their government debt without the assistance of third parties.

From late 2009, fears of a sovereign debt crisis developed among investors as a result of the rising government debt levels around the worldtogether with a wave of downgrading of government debt in some European states. Concerns intensified in early 2010 and thereafter,[3][4] leading Europe’s finance ministers on 9 May 2010 to approve a rescue package worth 750 billion aimed at ensuring financial stability across Europe by creating the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).[5] In October 2011 and February 2012, the eurozone leaders agreed on more measures designed to prevent the collapse of member economies. This included an agreement whereby banks would accept a 53.5% write-off of Greek debt owed to private creditors,[6] increasing the EFSF to about €1 trillion, and requiring European banks to achieve 9% capitalisation.[7] To restore confidence in Europe, EU leaders also agreed to create a common fiscal union including the commitment of each participating country to introduce a balanced budget amendment.[8][9]

While sovereign debt has risen substantially in only a few eurozone countries, it has become a perceived problem for the area as a whole.[10]Nevertheless, the European currency has remained stable.[11] As of mid-November 2011, the euro was even trading slightly higher against the bloc’s major trading partners than at the beginning of the crisis.[12][13] The three countries most affected, GreeceIreland and Portugal, collectively account for six percent of the eurozone’s gross domestic product (GDP).[14]




There are many contributing factors to the ongoing European financial crisis. To find the origin of the financial distress, researchers have to conduct and analyze financial records dated many years and possibly decades old. According to Zdeneil Kudrna, a political economist, the financial crisis was destined to happen due to the way the European Union deals and make their trade policies. He argues that the European Union only takes action after the facts. They only address a situation when it has already become a problem.[15]

Public debt $ and %GDP (2010) for selected European countries

The European sovereign debt crisis has resulted from a combination of complex factors, including the globalization of finance; easy credit conditions during the 2002–2008 period that encouraged high-risk lending and borrowing practices; international trade imbalances; real-estate bubbles that have since burst; slow economic growth in 2008 and thereafter; fiscal policy choices related to government revenues and expenses; and approaches used by nations to bailout troubled banking industries and private bondholders, assuming private debt burdens or socializing losses.[16][17] It is sometimes suggested that the Europeanwelfare state contributed to the disaster, but this is demonstrably false if one is to believe the most liberal Keynesian Economist.[18]

One narrative describing the causes of the crisis begins with the significant increase in savings available for investment during the 2000–2007 period when the global pool of fixed income securities increased from approximately $36 trillion in 2000 to $70 trillion by 2007. This “Giant Pool of Money” increased as savings from high-growth developing nations entered global capital markets. Investors searching for higher yields than those offered by U.S. Treasury bonds sought alternatives globally.[19] The temptation offered by such readily available savings overwhelmed the policy and regulatory control mechanisms in country after country as global fixed income investors searched for yield, generating bubble after bubble across the globe. While these bubbles have burst causing asset prices (e.g., housing and commercial property) to decline, the liabilities owed to global investors remain at full price, generating questions regarding the solvency of governments and their banking systems.[17]

How each European country involved in this crisis borrowed and invested the money varies. For example, Ireland’s banks lent the money to property developers, generating a massive property bubble. When the bubble burst, Ireland’s government and taxpayers assumed private debts. In Greece, the government increased its commitments to public workers in the form of extremely generous pay and pension benefits. Iceland’s banking system grew enormously, creating debts to global investors (“external debts”) several times GDP.[17]

The interconnection in the global financial system means that if one nation defaults on its sovereign debt or enters into recession putting some of the external private debt at risk, the banking systems of creditor nations face losses. For example, in October 2011 Italian borrowers owed French banks $366 billion (net). Should Italy be unable to finance itself, the French banking system and economy could come under significant pressure, which in turn would affect France’s creditors and so on. This is referred to as financial contagion.[20][21] Another factor contributing to interconnection is the concept of debt protection. Institutions entered into contracts called credit default swaps (CDS) that result in payment should default occur on a particular debt instrument (including government issued bonds). But, since multiple CDS’s can be purchased on the same security, it is unclear what exposure each country’s banking system now has to CDS.[22]

Some politicians, notably Angela Merkel, have sought to attribute some of the blame for the crisis to hedge funds and other speculators stating that “institutions bailed out with public funds are exploiting the budget crisis in Greece and elsewhere”.[23][24][25][26][27] Although some financial institutions clearly profited from the growing Greek government debt in the short run,[28] there was a long lead up to the crisis.

Rising government debt levels

Government debt of Eurozone, Germany and crisis countries compared to Eurozone GDP

Government deficit of Eurozone compared to USA and UK

In 1992, members of the European Union signed the Maastricht Treaty, under which they pledged to limit their deficit spending and debt levels.

However, a number of EU member states, including Greece and Italy, were able to circumvent these rules and mask their deficit and debt levels through the use of complex currency and credit derivatives structures.[29][30] The structures were designed by prominent U.S. investment banks, who received substantial fees in return for their services.

Public debt as a percent of GDP (2010)

A number of “appalled economists” have condemned the popular notion in the media that rising debt levels of European countries were caused by excess government spending. According to their analysis, increased debt levels are due to the large bailout packages provided to the financial sector during the late-2000s financial crisis, and the global economic slowdown thereafter. The average fiscal deficit in the euro area in 2007 was only 0.6% before it grew to 7% during the financial crisis. In the same period the average government debt rose from 66% to 84% of GDP. The authors also stressed that fiscal deficits in the euro area were stable or even shrinking since the early 1990s.[31] US economist Paul Krugman named Greece as the only country where fiscal irresponsibility is at the heart of the crisis.[32]

Either way, high debt levels alone may not explain the crisis. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the position of the euro area looked “no worse and in some respects, rather better than that of the US or the UK.” The budget deficit for the euro area as a whole (see graph) is much lower and the euro area’s government debt/GDP ratio of 86% in 2010 was about the same level as that of the US. Moreover, private-sector indebtedness across the euro area is markedly lower than in the highly leveragedAnglo-Saxon economies.[33]

Trade imbalances

Current account balances relative to GDP (2010)

Commentators such as Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf have asserted that the root of the crisis was growing trade imbalances. He notes in the run-up to the crisis, from 1999 to 2007, Germany had a considerably better public debt and fiscal deficit relative to GDP than the most affected eurozone members. In the same period, these countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain) had far worse balance of payments positions.[34] Whereas German trade surpluses increased as a percentage of GDP after 1999, the deficits of Italy, France and Spain all worsened.

More recently, Greece’s trading position has improved;[35] in the period November 2010 to October 2011 imports dropped 12% while exports grew 15% (40% to non-EU countries in comparison to October 2010).[35]

Monetary policy inflexibility

Since membership of the eurozone establishes a single monetary policy, individual member states can no longer act independently print money in order to pay creditors and ease their risk of default. By “printing money” a country’s currency is devalued relative to its (eurozone) trading partners, making its exports cheaper, in principle leading to an improved balance of trade, increased GDP and higher tax revenues innominal terms.[36] In the reverse direction moreover, assets held in a currency which has devalued suffer losses on the part of those holding them. For example by the end of 2011, following a 25 percent fall in the rate of exchange and 5 percent rise in inflation, eurozone investors inPound Sterling, locked in to euro exchanges rates, had suffered an approximate 30 percent cut in the repayment value of this debt.[37]

Loss of confidence

Sovereign CDS prices of selected European countries (2010–2011). The left axis is in basis points; a level of 1,000 means it costs $1 million to protect $10 million of debt for five years.

Prior to development of the crisis it was assumed by both regulators and banks that sovereign debt from the eurozone was safe. Banks had substantial holdings of bonds from weaker economies such as Greece which offered a small premium and seemingly were equally sound.

As the crisis developed it became obvious that Greek, and possibly other countries’, bonds offered substantially more risk. Contributing to lack of information about the risk of European sovereign debt was conflict of interest by banks that were earning substantial sums underwriting the bonds.[38]The loss of confidence is marked by rising sovereign CDS prices, indicating market expectations about countries’ creditworthiness (see graph).

Furthermore, investors have doubts about the possibilities of policy makers to quickly contain the crisis. Since countries that use the euro as their currency have fewer monetary policy choices (e.g., they cannot print money in their own currencies to pay debt holders), certain solutions require multi-national cooperation. Further, the European Central Bank has an inflation control mandate but not an employment mandate, as opposed to theU.S. Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate. According to the Economist, the crisis “is as much political as economic” and the result of the fact that the euro area is not supported by the institutional paraphernalia (and mutual bonds of solidarity) of a state.[33]

Rating agency views

On December 5, 2011 S&P placed its long-term sovereign ratings on 15 members of the eurozone on “CreditWatch” with negative implications; S&P wrote this was due to “systemic stresses from five interrelated factors: 1) Tightening credit conditions across the eurozone; 2) Markedly higher risk premiums on a growing number of eurozone sovereigns including some that are currently rated ‘AAA’; 3) Continuing disagreements among European policy makers on how to tackle the immediate market confidence crisis and, longer term, how to ensure greater economic, financial, and fiscal convergence among eurozone members; 4) High levels of government and household indebtedness across a large area of the eurozone; and 5) The rising risk of economic recession in the eurozone as a whole in 2012. Currently, we expect output to decline next year in countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, but we now assign a 40% probability of a fall in output for the eurozone as a whole.”[39]

Evolution of the crisis

In the first few weeks of 2010, there was renewed anxiety about excessive national debt. Frightened investors demanded ever higher interest rates from several governments with higher debt levels, deficits and current account deficits. This in turn made it difficult for some governments to finance further budget deficits and service existing debt, particularly when economic growth rates were low, and when a high percentage of debt was in the hands of foreign creditors, as in the case of Greece and Portugal.[40]Elected officials have focused on austerity measures (e.g., higher taxes and lower expenses) contributing to social unrest and significant debate among economists, many of whom advocate greater deficits when economies are struggling. Especially in countries where government budget deficits and sovereign debts have increased sharply, a crisis of confidence has emerged with the widening of bond yield spreads and risk insurance on CDS between these countries and other EU member states, most importantly Germany.[41][42] By the end of 2011, Germany was estimated to have made more than €9 billion out of the crisis as investors flocked to safer but near zero interest rate German federal government bonds (bunds).[43]While Switzerland equally benefited from lower interest rates, the crisis also harmed its export sector due to a substantial influx of foreign capital and the resulting rise of the Swiss franc. In September 2011 the Swiss National Bank surprised currency traders by pledging that “it will no longer tolerate a euro-franc exchange rate below the minimum rate of 1.20 francs”, effectively weakening the Swiss franc. This is the biggest Swiss intervention since 1978.[44]


Greece’s debt percentage since 1999 compared to the average of the eurozone

In the early mid 2000s, Greece’s economy was one of the fastest growing in the eurozone and the government took advantage of it by running a large structural deficit,[45] partly due to high defense spending amid historic enmity to Turkey. As the world economy cooled in the late 2000s, Greece was hit especially hard because its main industries — shipping and tourism — were especially sensitive to changes in the business cycle. As a result, the country’s debt began to increase rapidly.

100,000 people protest against the harsh austerity measures in front of parliament building in Athens (29 May 2011)

On 23 April 2010, the Greek government requested an initial loan of €45 billion from the EU andInternational Monetary Fund (IMF), to cover its financial needs for the remaining part of 2010.[46][47] A few days later Standard & Poor’s slashed Greece’s sovereign debt rating to BB+ or “junk” status amid fears of default,[48] in which case investors were liable to lose 30–50% of their money.[48] Stock markets worldwide and the Euro currency declined in response to this announcement.[49] On 1 May 2010, the Greek government announced a series of austerity measures[50] to secure a three year€110 billion loan.[51] This was met with great anger by the Greek public, leading to massive protests, riots and social unrest throughout Greece.[52] The Troika (EU, ECB and IMF), offered Greece a second bailout loan worth €130 billion in October 2011, but with the activation being conditional on implementation of further austerity measures and a debt restructure agreement. A bit surprisingly, the Greek prime minister George Papandreou first answered that call, by announcing a December 2011 referendum on the new bailout plan,[53][54] but had to back down amidst strong pressure from EU partners, who threatened to withhold an overdue €6 billion loan payment that Greece needed by mid-December.[53][55] On 10 November 2011 Papandreou instead opted to resign, following an agreement with the New Democracy party and the Popular Orthodox Rally, to appoint non-MP technocrat Lucas Papademos as new prime minister of an interim national union government, with responsibility for implementing the needed austerity measures to pave the way for the second bailout loan.[56][57]

All the implemented austerity measures, have so far helped Greece bring down its primary deficit before interest payments, from €24.7bn (10.6% of GDP) in 2009 to just €5.2bn (2.4% of GDP) in 2011[58][59], but as a side-effect they also contributed to a worsening of the Greek recession, which began in October 2008 and only became worse in 2010 and 2011.[60] Overall the Greek GDP had its worst decline in 2011 with -6.9%,[61] a year where the seasonal adjusted industrial output ended 28.4% lower than in 2005,[62][63] and with 111,000 Greek companies going bankrupt (27% higher than in 2010).[64][65] As a result, the seasonal adjusted unemployment rate also grew from 7.5% in September 2008 to a record high of 19.9% in November 2011, while the Youth unemployment rate during the same time rose from 22.0% to as high as 48.1%.[66][67] Overall the share of the population living at “risk of poverty or social exclusion” did not increase noteworthy during the first 2 year of the crisis. The figure was measured to 27.6% in 2009 and 27.7% in 2010 (only being slightly worse than the EU27-average at 23.4%),[68] but for 2011 the figure was now estimated to have risen sharply above 33%.[69] In February 2012, an IMF official negotiating Greek austerity measures admitted that excessive spending cuts were harming Greece.[58]

Some economic experts argue that the best option for Greece and the rest of the EU, would be to engineer an “orderly default”, allowing Athens to withdraw simultaneously from the eurozone and reintroduce its national currency the drachma at a debased rate.[70][71] However, if Greece were to leave the euro, the economic and political impact would be devastating. According to Japanese financial company Nomura an exit would lead to a 60 percent devaluation of the new drachma. UBS warned of “hyperinflationmilitary coups and possible civil warthat could afflict a departing country”.[72][73]

To prevent this from happening, the troika (EU, IMF and ECB) eventually agreed in February 2012 to provide a second bailout package worth €130 billion,[74] conditional on the implementation of another harsh austerity package (reducing the Greek spendings with €3.3bn in 2012 and another €10bn in 2013 and 2014).[59] For the first time, the bailout deal also included a debt restructure agreement with the private holders of Greek government bonds (banks, insurers and investment funds), to “voluntarily” accept a bond swap with a 53.5% nominal write-off, partly in short-term EFSF notes, partly in new Greek bonds with lower interest rates and the maturity prolonged to 11-30 years (independently of the previous maturity).[6] It is the world’s biggest debt restructuring deal ever done, affecting some €206 billion of Greek government bonds.[75] The debt write-off had a seize of €107 billion, and caused the Greek debt level to fall from roughly €350bn to €240bn in March 2012, with the predicted debt burden now showing a more sustainable size equal to 117% of GDP,[76]somewhat lower than the originally expected 120.5%.[77][78] Altogether Greece received aid worth €380bn or €33.600 per capita. This equals 177% of Greece’s GDP, much larger than the funds Western Europe received through the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, which amounted to 2.1% of GDP.[59]

On 9 March 2012 the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) issued a communique calling the PSI/debt restructuring deal a “Restructuring Credit Event” which will cause credit default swaps. According to Forbes magazine Greece’s restructuring represents a default.[79] [80]

This credit event implies that previous Greek bond holders are being given, for 1000€ of previous notional, 150€ in “PSI payment notes” issued by the EFSF and 315€ in “New Greek Bonds” issued by the Hellenic Republic, including a “GDP-linked security”. The latter represents a marginal coupon enhancement in case the Greek growth meets certain conditions. While the market price of the portfolio proposed in the exchange is of the order of 21% of the original face value (15% for the two EFSF PSI notes – 1 and 2 years – and 6% for the New Greek Bonds – 11 to 30 years), the duration of the set of New Greek Bonds is slightly below 10 years.[81]


Irish government deficit compared to other European countries and the United States (2000–2013)

The Irish sovereign debt crisis was not based on government over-spending, but from the state guaranteeing the six main Irish-based banks who had financed a property bubble. On 29 September 2008, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Jnr issued a one-year guarantee to the banks’ depositors and bond-holders. He renewed it for another year in September 2009 soon after the launch of the National Asset Management Agency(NAMA), a body designed to remove bad loans from the six banks.

Irish banks had lost an estimated 100 billion euros, much of it related to defaulted loans to property developers and homeowners made in the midst of the property bubble, which burst around 2007. The economy collapsed during 2008. Unemployment rose from 4% in 2006 to 14% by 2010, while the federal budget went from a surplus in 2007 to a deficit of 32% GDP in 2010, the highest in the history of the eurozone, despite draconian austerity measures.[17][82] Ireland could have guaranteed bank deposits and let private bondholders who had invested in the banks face losses, but instead borrowed money from the ECB to pay these bondholders, shifting the losses and debt to its taxpayers, with severe negative impact on Ireland’s creditworthiness. As a result, the government started negotiations with the EU, the IMF and three nations: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden, resulting in a €67.5 billion “bailout” agreement of 29 November 2010[83][84] Together with additional €17.5 billioncoming from Ireland’s own reserves and pensions, the government received €85 billion,[85] of which €34 billion were used to support the country’s ailing financial sector.[86] In return the government agreed to reduce its budget deficit to below three percent by 2015.[86] In April 2011, despite all the measures taken, Moody’s downgraded the banks’ debt to junk status.[87] In July 2011 European leaders agreed to cut the interest rate that Ireland was paying on its EU/IMF bailout loan from around 6% to between 3.5% and 4% and to double the loan time to 15 years. The move was expected to save the country between 600–700 million euros per year.[88] On 14 September 2011, in a move to further ease Ireland’s difficult financial situation, the European Commission announced it would cut the interest rate on its €22.5 billion loan coming from the European Financial Stability Mechanism, down to 2.59 per cent – which is the interest rate the EU itself pays to borrow from financial markets.[89]

The Euro Plus Monitor report from November 2011 attests to Ireland’s vast progress in dealing with its financial crisis, expecting the country to stand on its own feet again and finance itself without any external support from the second half of 2012 onwards.[90] According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research Ireland’s export-led recovery “will gradually pull its economy out of its trough”. As a result of the improved economic outlook, the cost of 10-year government bonds, which has already fallen substantially since mid July 2011 (see the graph “Long-term Interest Rates”), is expected to fall further to 4 per cent by 2015.[91]


A report released in January 2011 by the Diário de Notícias[92] and published in Portugal by Gradiva, demonstrated that in the period between the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and 2010, the democratic Portuguese Republic governments have encouraged over-expenditure and investment bubbles through unclear public-private partnerships and funding of numerous ineffective and unnecessary external consultancy and advisory of committees and firms. This allowed considerable slippage in state-managed public works and inflated top management and head officer bonuses and wages. Persistent and lasting recruitment policies boosted the number of redundant public servants. Risky creditpublic debt creation, and Europeanstructural and cohesion funds were mismanaged across almost four decades. Prime Minister Sócrates‘s cabinet was not able to forecast or prevent this in 2005, and later it was incapable of doing anything to improve the situation when the country was on the verge of bankruptcy by 2011.[93]

Robert Fishman, in the New York Times article “Portugal’s Unnecessary Bailout”, points out that Portugal fell victim to successive waves of speculation by pressure from bond traders, rating agencies and speculators.[94] In the first quarter of 2010, before pressure from the markets, Portugal had one of the best rates of economic recovery in the EU. From the perspective of Portugal’s industrial orders, exports, entrepreneurial innovation and high-school achievement, the country matched or even surpassed its neighbors in Western Europe.[94]

On 16 May 2011, the eurozone leaders officially approved a €78 billion bailout package for Portugal, which became the third eurozone country, after Ireland and Greece, to receive emergency funds. The bailout loan was equally split between the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility, and the International Monetary Fund.[95] According to the Portuguese finance minister, the average interest rate on the bailout loan is expected to be 5.1 percent.[96] As part of the deal, the country agreed to cut its budget deficit from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 5.9 percent in 2011, 4.5 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013.[97] The Portuguese government also agreed to eliminate its golden share in Portugal Telecom to pave the way for privatization.[98][99] In 2012, all public servants had already seen an average wage cut of 20% relative to their 2010 baseline, with cuts reaching 25% for those earning more than 1,500 euro[quantify]. This led to a flood of specialized technicians and top officials leaving the public service, many looking for better positions in the private sector or in other European countries.[citation needed]

On 6 July 2011, the ratings agency Moody’s had cut Portugal’s credit rating to junk status, Moody’s also launched speculation that Portugal could follow Greece in requesting a second bailout.[100]

In December 2011, it was reported that Portugal’s estimated budget deficit of 4.5 percent in 2011 would be substantially lower than expected, due to a one-off transfer of pension funds. The country would therefore meet its 2012 target a year earlier than expected.[97] Despite the fact that the economy is expected to contract by 3 percent in 2011 the IMF expects the country to be able to return to medium and long-term debt sovereign markets by late 2013.[101]


In September 2011, yields on Cyprus long-term bonds have risen above 12%, since the small island of 840,000 people was downgraded by all major credit ratings agencies following a devastating explosion at a power plant in July and slow progress with fiscal and structural reforms. Since January 2012, Cyprus is relying on a € 2.5bn emergency loan from Russia to cover its budget deficit and re-finance maturing debt. The loan has an interest rate of 4.5% and it is valid for 4.5 years[102] though it is expected that Cyprus will be able to fund itself again by the first quarter of 2013.[103]

On 13 March 2012 Moody’s has slashed Cyprus’s credit rating into Junk status, warning that the Cyprus government will have to inject fresh capital into its banks to cover losses incurred through Greece’s debt swap. Cyprus’s banks were highly exposed to Greek debt and so are disproportionately hit by the haircut taken by creditors.[104]

Possible spread to other countries

Total financing needs of selected countries in % of GDP (2011–2013)

Economic data from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, the EU and the eurozone for 2009

The 2010 annual budget deficit and public debt, both relative to GDP for selected European countries

Long-term interest rates of selected European countries.[1] Note that weak non-eurozone countries (Hungary, Romania) lack the sharp rise in interest rates characteristic of weak eurozone countries.

One of the central concerns prior to the bailout was that the crisis could spread to several other countries after reducing confidence in other European economies. According to the UK Financial Policy Committee “Market concerns remain over fiscal positions in a number of euro area countries and the potential for contagion to banking systems.”[105] Besides Ireland, with a government deficit in 2010 of 32.4% of GDP, and Portugal at 9.1%, other countries such as Spain with 9.2% are also at risk.[106]

For 2010, the OECD forecast $16 trillion would be raised in government bonds among its 30 member countries. Financing needs for the eurozone come to a total of €1.6 trillion, while the U.S. is expected to issue US$1.7 trillion more Treasury securities in this period,[107] and Japan has¥213 trillion of government bonds to roll over.[108] Greece has been the notable example of an industrialised country that has faced difficulties in the markets because of rising debt levels but even countries such as the U.S., Germany and the UK, have had fraught moments as investors shunned bond auctions due to concerns about public finances and the economy.[109]


Italy’s deficit of 4.6 percent of GDP in 2010 was similar to Germany’s at 4.3 percent and less than that of the U.K. and France. Italy even has a surplus in its primary budget, which excludes debt interest payments. However, its debt has increased to almost 120 percent of GDP (U.S. $2.4 trillion in 2010) and economic growth was lower than the EU average for over a decade.[110] This has led investors to view Italian bonds more and more as a risky asset.[111] On the other hand, the public debt of Italy has a longer maturity and a substantial share of it is held domestically. Overall this makes the country more resilient to financial shocks, ranking better than France and Belgium.[112] About 300 billion euros of Italy’s 1.9 trillion euro debt matures in 2012. It will therefore have to go to the capital markets for significant refinancing in the near-term.[113]

On 15 July and 14 September 2011, Italy’s government passed austerity measures meant to save €124 billion.[114][115] Nonetheless, by 8 November 2011 the Italian bond yield was 6.74 percent for 10-year bonds, climbing above the 7 percent level where the country is thought to lose access to financial markets.[116] On 11 November 2011, Italian 10-year borrowing costs fell sharply from 7.5 to 6.7 percent after Italian legislature approved further austerity measures and the formation of an emergency government to replace that of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.[117] The measures include a pledge to raise €15 billion from real-estate sales over the next three years, a two-year increase in the retirement age to 67 by 2026, opening up closed professions within 12 months and a gradual reduction in government ownership of local services.[111] The interim government expected to put the new laws into practice is led by former European Union Competition Commissioner Mario Monti.[111]

As in other countries, the social effects have been severe, with child labour even re-emerging in poorer areas.[118]


Spain has a comparatively low debt among advanced economies.[119] The country’s public debt relative to GDP in 2010 was only 60%, more than 20 points less than Germany, France or the US, and more than 60 points less than Italy, Ireland or Greece.[120][121] Like Italy, Spain has most of its debt controlled internally, and both countries are in a better fiscal situation than Greece and Portugal, making a default unlikely unless the situation gets far more severe.[122] As one of the largest eurozone economies the condition of Spain’s economy is of particular concern to international observers, and has faced pressure from the United States, the IMF, other European countries and the European Commission to cut its deficit more aggressively.[123][124] Spain’s public debt was approximately U.S. $820 billion in 2010, roughly the level of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland combined.[125]

Rumors raised by speculators about a Spanish bail-out were dismissed by then Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as “complete insanity” and “intolerable”.[126] Nevertheless, shortly after the announcement of the EU’s new “emergency fund” for eurozone countries in early May 2010, Spain had to announce new austerity measures designed to further reduce the country’s budget deficit, in order to signal financial markets that it was safe to invest in the country.[127] The Spanish government had hoped to avoid such deep cuts, but weak economic growth as well as domestic and international pressure forced the government to expand on cuts already announced in January.

Spain succeeded in trimming its deficit from 11.2% of GDP in 2009 to 9.2% in 2010[128] and 8.5% in 2011.[129] Due to the European crisis and over spending by regional governments the latest figure is higher than the original target of 6%.[130][131] To build up additional trust in the financial markets, the government amended the Spanish Constitution in 2011 to require a balanced budget at both the national and regional level by 2020. The amendment states that public debt can not exceed 60% of GDP, though exceptions would be made in case of a natural catastrophe, economic recession or other emergencies.[132][133] Under pressure from the EU the new conservative Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoyaims to cut the deficit further to 5.3 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013.[134]


In 2010, Belgium’s public debt was 100% of its GDP—the third highest in the eurozone after Greece and Italy[135] and there were doubts about the financial stability of the banks,[136] following the country’s major financial crisis in 2008–2009. After inconclusive elections in June 2010, by November 2011[137] the country still had only a caretaker government as parties from the two main language groups in the country (Flemish and Walloon) were unable to reach agreement on how to form a majority government.[135] In November 2010 financial analysts forecast that Belgium would be the next country to be hit by the financial crisis as Belgium’s borrowing costs rose.[136]

However the government deficit of 5% was relatively modest and Belgian government 10-year bond yields in November 2010 of 3.7% were still below those of Ireland (9.2%), Portugal (7%) and Spain (5.2%).[136] Furthermore, thanks to Belgium’s high personal savings rate, the Belgian Government financed the deficit from mainly domestic savings, making it less prone to fluctuations of international credit markets.[138] Nevertheless on 25 November 2011, Belgium’s long-term sovereign credit rating was downgraded from AA+ to AA by Standard and Poor[139] and 10-year bond yields reached 5.66%.[137] Shortly after, Belgian negotiating parties reached an agreement to form a new government. The deal includes spending cuts and tax rises worth about €11 billion, which should bring the budget deficit down to 2.8% of GDP by 2012, and to balance the books in 2015.[140] Following the announcement Belgium 10-year bond yields fell sharply to 4.6%.[141]


France’s public debt in 2010 was approximately U.S. $2.1 trillion and 83% GDP, with a 2010 budget deficit of 7% GDP.[142] By 16 November 2011, France’s bond yield spreads vs. Germany had widened 450% since July, 2011.[143] France’s C.D.S. contract value rose 300% in the same period.[144] On 1 December 2011, France’s bond yield had retreated and the country successfully auctioned €4.3 billion worth of 10 year bonds at an average yield of 3.18%, well below the perceived critical level of 7%.[145] By early February 2012, yields on French 10 year bonds had fallen to 2.84%.[146]

United Kingdom

According to the Financial Policy Committee “Any associated disruption to bank funding markets could spill over to UK banks.”[105] Bank of England governor Mervyn King declared that the UK is very much at risk from a domino-fall of defaults and called on banks to build up more capital when financial conditions allowed. This is because the UK has the highest gross foreign debt of any European country (€7.3 trillion; €117,580 per person) due in large part to its highly leveraged financial industry, which is closely connected with both the United States and the eurozone.[147]


EU emergency measures

European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)

On 9 May 2010, the 27 EU member states agreed to create the European Financial Stability Facility, a legal instrument[148] aiming at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to eurozone states in difficulty. The EFSF can issue bonds or other debt instruments on the market with the support of the German Debt Management Office to raise the funds needed to provide loans to eurozone countries in financial troubles, recapitalize banks or buy sovereign debt.[149] Emissions of bonds are backed by guarantees given by the euro area member states in proportion to their share in the paid-up capital of the European Central Bank. The €440 billion lending capacity of the facility is jointly and severally guaranteed by the eurozone countries’ governments and may be combined with loans up to €60 billion from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (reliant on funds raised by the European Commission using the EU budget as collateral) and up to €250 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain a financial safety net up to €750 billion. [150]

The EFSF issued €5 billion of five-year bonds in its inaugural benchmark issue January 25 2011, attracting an order book of €44.5 billion. This amount is a record for any sovereign bond in Europe, and €24.5 billion more than the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), a separate European Union funding vehicle, with a €5 billion issue in the first week of January 2011.[151]

On 29 November 2011, the member state finance ministers agreed to expand the EFSF by creating certificates that could guarantee up to 30% of new issues from troubled euro-area governments, and to create investment vehicles that would boost the EFSF’s firepower to intervene in primary and secondary bond markets.[152]

Reception by financial markets

Stocks surged worldwide after the EU announced the EFSF’s creation. The facility eased fears that the Greek debt crisis would spread,[153] and this led to some stocks rising to the highest level in a year or more.[154] The euro made its biggest gain in 18 months,[155] before falling to a new four-year low a week later.[156] Shortly after the euro rose again as hedge funds and other short-term traders unwound short positions and carry trades in the currency.[157] Commodity prices also rose following the announcement.[158] The dollar Libor held at a nine-month high.[159] Default swaps also fell.[160] The VIX closed down a record almost 30%, after a record weekly rise the preceding week that prompted the bailout.[161] The agreement is interpreted as allowing the ECB to start buying government debt from the secondary market which is expected to reduce bond yields.[162] As a result Greek bond yields fell sharply from over 10% to just over 5%.[163] Asian bonds yields also fell with the EU bailout.[164])

Usage of EFSF funds

Debt profile of Eurozone countries

The EFSF only raises funds after an aid request is made by a country.[165] As of the end of December 2011, it has been activated two times. In November 2010, it financed €17.7 billion of the total €67.5 billion rescue package for Ireland (the rest was loaned from individual European countries, the European Commission and the IMF). In May 2011 it contributed one third of the €78 billion package for Portugal. As part of the second bailout for Greece, the loan was shifted to the EFSF, amounting to €164 billion (130bn new package plus 34.4bn remaining from Greek Loan Facility) throughout 2014.[166] This leaves the EFSF with €250 billion or an equivalent of €750 billion in leveraged firepower.[167] According to German newspaper Sueddeutsche, this is more than enough to finance the debt rollovers of all flagging European countries until end of 2012, in case necessary.[167]

The EFSF is set to expire in 2013, running one year parallel to the permanent €500 billion rescue funding program called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which will start operating as soon as member states representing 90% of the capital commitments have ratified it. This is expected to be in July 2012.[168][169]

On 13 January 2012, Standard & Poor’s downgraded France and Austria from AAA rating, lowered Spain, Italy (and five other[170]) euro members further, and maintained the top credit rating for Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; shortly after, S&P also downgraded the EFSF from AAA to AA+.[170][171]

European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM)

On 5 January 2011, the European Union created the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), an emergency funding programme reliant upon funds raised on the financial markets and guaranteed by the European Commission using the budget of the European Union as collateral.[172] It runs under the supervision of the Commission[173] and aims at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to EU member states in economic difficulty.[174] The Commission fund, backed by all 27 European Unionmembers, has the authority to raise up to €60 billion[175] and is rated AAA by FitchMoody’s and Standard & Poor’s.[176][177]

Under the EFSM, the EU successfully placed in the capital markets a €5 billion issue of bonds as part of the financial support package agreed for Ireland, at a borrowing cost for the EFSM of 2.59%.[178]

Like the EFSF, the EFSM will also be replaced by the permanent rescue funding programme ESM, which is due to be launched in July 2012.[168]

Brussels agreement and aftermath

On 26 October 2011, leaders of the 17 eurozone countries met in Brussels and agreed on a 50% write-off of Greek sovereign debt held by banks, a fourfold increase (to about €1 trillion) in bail-out funds held under the European Financial Stability Facility, an increased mandatory level of 9% for bank capitalisation within the EU and a set of commitments from Italy to take measures to reduce its national debt. Also pledged was €35 billion in “credit enhancement” to mitigate losses likely to be suffered by European banks. José Manuel Barroso characterised the package as a set of “exceptional measures for exceptional times”.[7][179]

The package’s acceptance was put into doubt on 31 October when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that a referendum would be held so that the Greek people would have the final say on the bailout, upsetting financial markets.[180] On 3 November 2011 the promised Greek referendum on the bailout package was withdrawn by Prime Minister Papandreou.

In late 2011, Landon Thomas in the New York Times noted that some, at least, European banks were maintaining high dividend payout rates and none were getting capital injections from their governments even while being required to improve capital ratios. Thomas quoted Richard Koo, an economist based in Japan, an expert on that country’s banking crisis, and specialist in balance sheet recessions, as saying:

I do not think Europeans understand the implications of a systemic banking crisis…. When all banks are forced to raise capital at the same time, the result is going to be even weaker banks and an even longer recession — if not depression…. Government intervention should be the first resort, not the last resort.

Beyond equity issuance and debt-to-equity conversion, then, one analyst “said that as banks find it more difficult to raise funds, they will move faster to cut down on loans and unload lagging assets” as they work to improve capital ratios. This latter contraction of balance sheets “could lead to a depression”, the analyst said.[181] Reduced lending was a circumstance already at the time being seen in a “deepen[ing] crisis” in commodities trade finance in western Europe.[182]

Final agreement on the second bailout package

In a marathon meeting on 20/21 February 2012 the Eurogroup agreed with the IMF and the Institute of International Finance on the final conditions of the second bailout package worth €130 billion. The lenders agreed to increase the nominal haircut from 50% to 53.5%. EU Member States agreed to an additional retroactive lowering of the interest rates of the Greek Loan Facility to a level of just 150 basis points above the Euribor. Furthermore, governments of Member States where central banks currently hold Greek government bonds in their investment portfolio commit to pass on to Greece an amount equal to any future income until 2020. Altogether this should bring down Greece’s debt to between 117%[183] and 120.5% of GDP by 2020.[77]

ECB interventions

ECB Securities Markets Program (SMP) covering bond purchases from May 2010 till April 2012

The European Central Bank (ECB) has taken a series of measures aimed at reducing volatility in the financial markets and at improving liquidity.[184]

In May 2010 it took the following actions:

  • It began open market operations buying government and private debt securities,[185] reaching €219.5 billion by February of 2012,[186] though it simultaneously absorbed the same amount of liquidity to prevent a rise in inflation.[187] According to Rabobankeconomist Elwin de Groot, there is a “natural limit” of €300 billion the ECB can sterilize.[188]
  • It reactivated the dollar swap lines[189] with Federal Reserve support.[190]
  • It changed its policy regarding the necessary credit rating for loan deposits, accepting as collateral all outstanding and new debt instruments issued or guaranteed by the Greek government, regardless of the nation’s credit rating.

The move took some pressure off Greek government bonds, which had just been downgraded to junk status, making it difficult for the government to raise money on capital markets.[191]

On 30 November 2011, the European Central Bank, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the central banks of Canada, Japan, Britain and theSwiss National Bank provided global financial markets with additional liquidity to ward off the debt crisis and to support the real economy. The central banks agreed to lower the cost of dollar currency swaps by 50 basis points to come into effect on 5 December 2011. They also agreed to provide each other with abundant liquidity to make sure that commercial banks stay liquid in other currencies.[192]

Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO)

The ECB conducts repo auctions as weekly main refinancing operations (MRO with a (bi)weekly maturity and monthly Long Term Refinancing Operations (LTROs) maturing after three months. In 2003, refinancing via LTROs amounted to 45 bln Euro which is about 20% of overall liquidity provided by the ECB. [193]

The ECB’s first supplementary longer-term refinancing operation (LTRO) with a six-month maturity was announced March 2008.[194] Previously the longest tender offered was three months. It announced two 3-month and one 6-month full allotment of Long Term Refinancing Operations (LTROs). The first tender was settled April 3, and was more than four times oversubscribed. The €25 billion auction drew bids amounting to €103.1 billion, from 177 banks. Another six-month tender was allotted on July 9, again to the amount of €25 billion.[195]

The first 1y LTRO in June 2009 had close to 1100 bidders. [196] On 22 December 2011, the ECB [197] started the biggest infusion of credit into the European banking system in the euro’s 13 year history. Under its LTRO it loaned €489 billion to 523 banks for an exceptionally long period of three years at a rate of just one percent.[198] The by far biggest amount of€325 billion was tapped by banks in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain.[199] This way the ECB tried to make sure that banks have enough cash to pay off €200 billion of their own maturing debts in the first three months of 2012, and at the same time keep operating and loaning to businesses so that a credit crunch does not choke off economic growth. It also hoped that banks would use some of the money to buy government bonds, effectively easing the debt crisis.[200] On 29 February 2012, the ECB held a second auction, LTRO2, providing 800 Eurozone banks with further €529.5 billion in cheap loans. [201] Net new borrowing under the €529.5 billion February auction was around €313 billion; out of a total of €256 billion existing ECB lending (MRO + 3m&6m LTROs), €215 billion was rolled into LTRO2. [202]


In September 2011, Jürgen Stark became the second German after Axel A. Weber to resign from the ECB Governing Council in 2011. Weber, the former Deutsche Bundesbankpresident, was once thought to be a likely successor to Jean-Claude Trichet as bank president. He and Stark were both thought to have resigned due to “unhappiness with the ECB’s bond purchases, which critics say erode the bank’s independence”. Stark was “probably the most hawkish” member of the council when he resigned. Weber was replaced by his Bundesbank successor Jens Weidmann, while Belgium’s Peter Praet took Stark’s original position, heading the ECB’s economics department.[203]

Economic reforms and recovery

Increase competitiveness

See also: Euro Plus Pact

Change in unit labour costs (2000-2010)

Eurozone economic health and adjustment progress 2011 (Source: Euro Plus Monitor)[204]

Slow GDP growth rates correspond to slower growth in tax revenues and higher safety net spending, increasing deficits and debt levels. Fareed Zakaria described the factors slowing growth in the eurozone, writing in November 2011: “Europe’s core problem [is] a lack of growth… Italy’s economy has not grown for an entire decade. No debt restructuring will work if it stays stagnant for another decade… The fact is that Western economies – with high wages, generous middle-class subsidies and complex regulations and taxes – have become sclerotic. Now they face pressures from three fronts: demography (an aging population), technology (which has allowed companies to do much more with fewer people) and globalization (which has allowed manufacturing and services to locate across the world).” He advocated lower wages and steps to bring in more foreign capital investment.[205] British economic historian Robert Skidelsky disagreed saying it was excessive lending by banks, not deficit spending that created this crisis. Government’s mounting debts are a response to the economic downturn as spending rises and tax revenues fall, not its cause.[206]

To improve the situation, crisis countries must significantly increase their international competitiveness. Typically this is done by depreciating the currency, as in the case of Iceland, which suffered the largest financial crisis in 2008-2011 in economic history but has since vastly improved its position. Since eurozone countries cannot devalue their currency, policy makers try to restore competitiveness through internal devaluation, a painful economic adjustment process, where a country aims to reduce its unit labour costs.[207] German economist Hans-Werner Sinn noted in 2012 that Ireland was the only country that had implemented relative wage moderation in the last five year, which helped decrease its relative price/wage levels by 16%. Greece would need to bring this figure down by 31%, effectively reaching the level of Turkey.[208][209]

Other economists argue that no matter how much Greece and Portugal drive down their wages, they could never compete with low-cost developing countries such as China or India. Instead weak European countries must shift their economies to higher quality products and services, though this is a long-term process and may not bring immediate relief.[210]


On 15 November 2011, the Lisbon Council published the Euro Plus Monitor 2011. According to the report most critical eurozone member countries are in the process of rapid reforms. The authors note that “Many of those countries most in need to adjust […] are now making the greatest progress towards restoring their fiscal balance and external competitiveness”. Greece, Ireland and Spain are among the top five reformers and Portugal is ranked seventh among 17 countries included in the report (see graph).[204]

Increase investment

There has been substantial criticism over the austerity measures implemented by most European nations to counter this debt crisis. Some argue that an abrupt return to “non-Keynesian” financial policies is not a viable solution[211] and predict that deflationary policies now being imposed on countries such as Greece and Spain might prolong and deepen their recessions.[212] In a 2003 study that analyzed 133 IMF austerity programmes, the IMF’s independent evaluation office found that policy makers consistently underestimated the disastrous effects of rigid spending cuts on economic growth.[213][214] In early 2012 an IMF official, who negotiated Greek austerity measures, admitted that spending cuts were harming Greece.[58][58] Nouriel Roubini adds that the new credit available to the heavily indebted countries did not equate to an immediate revival of economic fortunes: “While money is available now on the table, all this money is conditional on all these countries doing fiscal adjustment and structural reform.”[215]

According to Keynesian economists “growth-friendly austerity” relies on the false argument that public cuts would be compensated for by more spending from consumers and businesses, a theoretical claim that has not materialized. The case of Greece shows that excessive levels of private indebtedness and a collapse of public confidence (over 90% of Greeks fear unemployment, poverty and the closure of businesses)[216] led the private sector to decrease spending in an attempt to save up for rainy days ahead. This led to even lower demand for both products and labor, which further deepened the recession and made it ever more difficult to generate tax revenues and fight public indebtedness.[217]

Instead of austerity, Keynes suggested increasing investment and cutting income tax for low earners to kick-start the economy and boost growth and employment.[218] Since struggling European countries lack the funds to engage in deficit spending, German economist and member of the German Council of Economic Experts Peter Bofinger and Sony Kapoor of the global think tank Re-Define suggest financing additional public investments by growth-friendly taxes on “property, land, wealth, carbon emissions and the under-taxed financial sector”. They also called on EU countries to renegotiate the EU savings tax directive and to sign an agreement to help each other crack down on tax evasion and avoidance. Currently authorities capture less than 1% in annual tax revenue on untaxed wealth transferred to other EU members. Furthermore the two suggest providing €40 billion in additional funds to the European Investment Bank, which could then lend ten times that amount to the employment-intensive smaller business sector.[217]

Apart from arguments over whether or not austerity, rather than increased or frozen spending, is a macroeconomic solution,[219] union leaders have also argued that the working population is being unjustly held responsible for the economic mismanagement errors of economists, investors, and bankers. Over 23 million EU workers have become unemployed as a consequence of the global economic crisis of 2007–2010, and this has led many to call for additional regulation of the banking sector across not only Europe, but the entire world.[220]

Proposed long-term solutions

European fiscal union and revision of the Lisbon Treaty

Main article: European Fiscal Union

In March 2011 a new reform of the Stability and Growth Pact was initiated, aiming at straightening the rules by adopting an automatic procedure for imposing of penalties in case of breaches of either the deficit or the debt rules.[221][222] By the end of the year, Germany, France and some other smaller EU countries went a step further and vowed to create a fiscal union across the eurozone with strict and enforceable fiscal rules and automatic penalties embedded in the EU treaties.[8][9] On 9 December 2011 at the European Council meeting, all 17 members of the eurozone and six countries that aspire to join agreed on a new intergovernmental treaty to put strict caps on government spending and borrowing, with penalties for those countries who violate the limits.[223] All other non-eurozone countries apart from the UK are also prepared to join in, subject to parliamentary vote.[168]

Originally EU leaders planned to change existing EU treaties but this was blocked by British prime minister David Cameron, who demanded that the City of London be excluded from future financial regulations, including the proposed EU financial transaction tax.[224][225] By the end of the day, 26 countries had agreed to the plan, leaving the United Kingdom as the only country not willing to join.[226] Cameron subsequently conceded that his action had failed to secure any safeguards for the UK.[227] Britain’s refusal to be part of the Franco-German fiscal compact to safeguard the eurozone constituted a de facto refusal (PM David Cameron vetoed the project) to engage in any radical revision of the Lisbon Treaty at the expense of British sovereignty: centrist analysts such as John Rentoul of The Independent (a generally Europhile newspaper) concluded that “Any Prime Minister would have done as Cameron did”.[228]


Main article: Eurobonds

A growing number of investors and economists say Eurobonds would be the best way of solving a debt crisis,[229] though their introduction matched by tight financial and budgetary coordination may well require changes in EU treaties.[229] On 21 November 2011, the European Commission suggested that eurobonds issued jointly by the 17 euro nations would be an effective way to tackle the financial crisis. Using the term “stability bonds”, Jose Manuel Barroso insisted that any such plan would have to be matched by tight fiscal surveillance and economic policy coordination as an essential counterpart so as to avoid moral hazard and ensure sustainable public finances.[230][231]

Germany remains largely opposed at least in the short term to a collective takeover of the debt of states that have run excessive budget deficits and borrowed excessively over the past years, saying this could substantially raise the country’s liabilities.[232]

European Stability Mechanism (ESM)

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is a permanent rescue funding programme to succeed the temporary European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism in July 2012.[168]

On 16 December 2010 the European Council agreed a two line amendment to the EU Lisbon Treaty to allow for a permanent bail-out mechanism to be established[233] including stronger sanctions. In March 2011, the European Parliament approved the treaty amendment after receiving assurances that the European Commission, rather than EU states, would play ‘a central role’ in running the ESM.[234][235] According to this treaty, the ESM will be an intergovernmental organisation under public international law and will be located inLuxembourg.[236][237]

Such a mechanism serves as a “financial firewall.” Instead of a default by one country rippling through the entire interconnected financial system, the firewall mechanism can ensure that downstream nations and banking systems are protected by guaranteeing some or all of their obligations. Then the single default can be managed while limiting financial contagion.

Address current account imbalances

Current account imbalances (1997-2013)

Regardless of the corrective measures chosen to solve the current predicament, as long as cross border capital flows remain unregulated in the euro area,[238] current account imbalances are likely to continue. A country that runs a large current account or trade deficit (i.e., importing more than it exports) must ultimately be a net importer of capital; this is a mathematical identity called the balance of payments. In other words, a country that imports more than it exports must either decrease its savings reserves or borrow to pay for those imports. Conversely, Germany’s large trade surplus (net export position) means that it must either increase its savings reserves or be a net exporter of capital, lending money to other countries to allow them to buy German goods.[239]

The 2009 trade deficits for Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal were estimated to be $42.96 billion, $75.31bn and $35.97bn, and $25.6bn respectively, while Germany’s trade surplus was $188.6bn.[240] A similar imbalance exists in the U.S., which runs a large trade deficit (net import position) and therefore is a net borrower of capital from abroad. Ben Bernanke warned of the risks of such imbalances in 2005, arguing that a “savings glut” in one country with a trade surplus can drive capital into other countries with trade deficits, artificially lowering interest rates and creating asset bubbles.[241][242][243]

A country with a large trade surplus would generally see the value of its currency appreciate relative to other currencies, which would reduce the imbalance as the relative price of its exports increases. This currency appreciation occurs as the importing country sells its currency to buy the exporting country’s currency used to purchase the goods. Alternatively, trade imbalances can be reduced if a country encouraged domestic saving by restricting or penalizing the flow of capital across borders, or by raising interest rates, although this benefit is likely offset by slowing down the economy and increasing government interest payments.[244]

Either way, many of the countries involved in the crisis are on the euro, so devaluation, individual interest rates and capital controls are not available. The only solution left to raise a country’s level of saving is to reduce budget deficits and to change consumption and savings habits. For example, if a country’s citizens saved more instead of consuming imports, this would reduce its trade deficit.[244] It has therefore been suggested that countries with large trade deficits (e.g. Greece) consume less and improve their exporting industries. On the other hand, export driven countries with a large trade surplus, such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands would need to shift their economies more towards domestic services and increase wages to support domestic consumption.[34][245]

European Monetary Fund

On 20 October 2011, the Austrian Institute of Economic Research published an article that suggests transforming the EFSF into a European Monetary Fund (EMF), which could provide governments with fixed interest rate Eurobonds at a rate slightly below medium-term economic growth (in nominal terms). These bonds would not be tradable but could be held by investors with the EMF and liquidated at any time. Given the backing of all the eurozone countries and the ECB “the EMU would achieve a similarly strong position vis-a-vis financial investors as the US where the Fed backs government bonds to an unlimited extent.” To ensure fiscal discipline despite the lack of market pressure, the EMF would operate according to strict rules, providing funds only to countries that meet fiscal and macroeconomic criteria. Governments lacking sound financial policies would be forced to rely on traditional (national) governmental bonds with less favorable market rates.[246]

The econometric analysis suggests that “If the short-term and long- term interest rates in the euro area were stabilized at 1.5 % and 3 %, respectively, aggregate output (GDP) in the euro area would be 5 percentage points above baseline in 2015”. At the same time sovereign debt levels would be significantly lower with e.g. Greece’s debt level falling below 110% of GDP, more than 40 percentage points below the baseline scenario with market based interest levels. Furthermore, banks would no longer be able to unduly benefit from intermediary profits by borrowing from the ECB at low rates and investing in government bonds at high rates.[246]

Drastic debt write-off financed by wealth tax

Overall debt levels in 2009 and write-offs necessary in the Eurozone, UK and U.S. to reach sustainable grounds

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the combined private and public debt of 18 OECD countries nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2010, and will likely continue to grow, reaching between 250% (for Italy) and about 600% (for Japan) by 2040.[247] The same authors also found in a previous study that increased financial burden imposed by aging populations and lower growth makes it unlikely that indebted economies can grow out of their debt problem if only one of the following three conditions is met:[248]

  • government debt is more than 80 to 100 percent of GDP;
  • non-financial corporate debt is more than 90 percent;
  • private household debt is more than 85 percent of GDP.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) adds that if the overall debt load continues to grow faster than the economy, then large-scale debt restructuring becomes inevitable. To prevent a vicious upward debt spiral from gaining momentum the authors urge policy makers to “act quickly and decisively” and aim for an overall debt level well below 180 percent for the private and government sector. This number is based on the assumption that governments, nonfinancial corporations, and private households can each sustain a debt load of 60 percent of GDP, at an interest rate of 5 percent and a nominal economic growth rate of 3 percent per year. Lower interest rates and/or higher growth would help reduce the debt burden further.[249]

To reach sustainable levels the Eurozone must reduce its overall debt level by €6.1 trillion. According to BCG this could be financed by a one-time wealth tax of between 11 and 30 percent for most countries, apart from the crisis countries (particularly Ireland) where a write-off would have to be substantially higher. The authors admit that such programs would be “drastic”, “unpopular” and “require broad political coordination and leadership” but they maintain that the longer politicians and central bankers wait, the more necessary such a step will be.[249]

Instead of a one-time write-off, German economist Harald Spehl has called for a 30 year debt-reduction plan, similar to the one Germany used after the Second World War to share the burden of reconstruction and development.[250] Similar calls have been made by political parties in Germany including the Greens and The Left.[251][252]

Speculation about the breakup of the eurozone

Economists, mostly from outside Europe and associated with Modern Monetary Theory and other post-Keynesian schools, condemned the design of the euro currency system from the beginning because it ceded national monetary and economic sovereignty but lacked a central fiscal authority. When faced with economic problems, they maintained, “Without such an institution, EMU would prevent effective action by individual countries and put nothing in its place.”[253][254] Some non-Keynesian economists, such as Luca A. Ricci of the IMF, contend the eurozone does not fulfill the necessary criteria for an optimum currency area, though it is moving in that direction.[204][255]

As the debt crisis expanded beyond Greece, these economists continued to advocate, albeit more forcefully, the disbandment of the eurozone. If this was not immediately feasible, they recommended that Greece and the other debtor nations unilaterally leave the eurozone, default on their debts, regain their fiscal sovereignty, and re-adopt national currencies.[256][257]Bloomberg suggested in June 2011 that, if the Greek and Irish bailouts should fail, an alternative would be for Germany to leave the eurozone in order to save the currency throughdepreciation[258] instead of austerity. The likely substantial fall in the euro against a newly reconstituted Deutsche Mark would give a “huge boost” to its members’ competitiveness.[259]Also The Wall Street Journal conjectured that Germany could return to the Deutsche Mark,[260] or create another currency union[261] with the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and other European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Baltics.[262] A monetary union of these countries with current account surpluses would create the world’s largest creditor bloc, bigger than China[263] or Japan. The Wall Street Journal added that without the German-led bloc, a residual euro would have the flexibility to keepinterest rates low[264] and engage in quantitative easing or fiscal stimulus in support of a job-targeting economic policy[265] instead of inflation targeting in the current configuration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have, however, on numerous occasions publicly said that they would not allow the eurozone to disintegrate, linking the survival of the euro with that of the entire European Union.[266][267] In September 2011, EU commissioner Joaquín Almunia shared this view, saying that expelling weaker countries from the euro was not an option.[268] Furthermore, former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet also denounced the possibility of a return of the Deutsche Mark.[269]


The European bailouts are largely about shifting exposure from banks and others, who otherwise are lined up for losses on the sovereign debt they recklessly bought, onto European taxpayers.[270][271][272][273][274][275]

EU treaty violations

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No bail-out clause

The EU’s Maastricht Treaty contains juridical language which appears to rule out intra-EU bailouts. First, the “no bail-out” clause (Article 125 TFEU) ensures that the responsibility for repaying public debt remains national and prevents risk premiums caused by unsound fiscal policies from spilling over to partner countries. The clause thus encourages prudent fiscal policies at the national level.

The European Central Bank‘s purchase of distressed country bonds can be viewed as violating the prohibition of monetary financing of budget deficits (Article 123 TFEU). The creation of further leverage in EFSF with access to ECB lending would also appear to violate the terms of this article.

Articles 125 and 123 were meant to create disincentives for EU member states to run excessive deficits and state debt, and prevent the moral hazard of over-spending and lending in good times. They were also meant to protect the taxpayers of the other more prudent member states. By issuing bail-out aid guaranteed by prudent eurozone taxpayers to rule-breaking eurozone countries such as Greece, the EU and eurozone countries also encourage moral hazard in the future.[276] While the no bail-out clause remains in place, the “no bail-out doctrine” seems to be a thing of the past.[277]

Convergence criteria

The EU treaties contain so called convergence criteria. Concerning government finance the states have agreed that the annual government budget deficit should not exceed 3% of thegross domestic product (GDP) and that the gross government debt to GDP should not exceed 60% of the GDP. For eurozone members there is the Stability and Growth Pact which contains the same requirements for budget deficit and debt limitation but with a much stricter regime. Nevertheless the main crisis states Greece and Italy (status November 2011) have substantially exceeded these criteria over a long period of time.

Actors fueling the crisis

Credit rating agencies

Standard & Poor’s Headquarters in Lower Manhattan, New York City

The international U.S.-based credit rating agenciesMoody’sStandard & Poor’s and Fitch—which have already been under fire during thehousing bubble[278][279] and the Icelandic crisis[280][281]—have also played a central and controversial role[282] in the current European bond market crisis.[283] On the one hand, the agencies have been accused of giving overly generous ratings due to conflicts of interest.[284] On the other hand, ratings agencies have a tendency to act conservatively, and to take some time to adjust when a firm or country is in trouble.[285] In the case of Greece, the market responded to the crisis before the downgrades, with Greek bonds trading at junk levels several weeks before the ratings agencies began to describe them as such.[45]

European policy makers have criticized ratings agencies for acting politically, accusing the Big Three of bias towards European assets and fueling speculation.[286] Particularly Moody’s decision to downgrade Portugal’s foreign debt to the category Ba2 “junk” has infuriated officials from the EU and Portugal alike.[286] State owned utility and infrastructure companies like ANA – Aeroportos de PortugalEnergias de PortugalRedes Energéticas Nacionais, and Brisa – Auto-estradas de Portugal were also downgraded despite claims to having solid financial profiles and significant foreign revenue.[287][288][289][290] France too has shown its anger at its downgrade. French central bank chief Christian Noyer criticized the decision of Standard & Poor’s to lower the rating of France but not that of the United Kingdom, which “has more deficits, as much debt, more inflation, less growth than us”. Similar comments were made by high ranking politicians in Germany. Michael Fuchs, deputy leader of the leading Christian Democrats, said: “Standard and Poor’s must stop playing politics. Why doesn’t it act on the highly indebted United States or highly indebted Britain?”, adding that the latter’s collective private and public sector debts are the largest in Europe. He further added: “If the agency downgrades France, it should also downgrade Britain in order to be consistent.”[291]

Credit rating agencies were also accused of bullying politicians by systematically downgrading eurozone countries just before important European Council meetings. As one EU source put it: “It is interesting to look at the downgradings and the timings of the downgradings … It is strange that we have so many downgrades in the weeks of summits.”[292]

Regulatory reliance on credit ratings

Think-tanks such as the World Pensions Council have criticized European powers such as France and Germany for pushing for the adoption of the Basel II recommendations, adopted in 2005 and transposed in European Union law through the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD), effective since 2008. In essence, this forced European banks and more importantly theEuropean Central Bank, e.g. when gauging the solvency of EU-based financial institutions, to rely heavily on the standardized assessments of credit risk marketed by only two privateUS agencies- Moody’s and S&P.[293]

Counter measures

Due to the failures of the ratings agencies, European regulators obtained new powers to supervise ratings agencies.[282] With the creation of the European Supervisory Authority in January 2011 the EU set up a whole range of new financial regulatory institutions,[294] including the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA),[295] which became the EU’s single credit-ratings firm regulator.[296] Credit-ratings companies have to comply with the new standards or will be denied operation on EU territory, says ESMA Chief Steven Maijoor.[297]

Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has called for an “independent” European ratings agency, which could avoid the conflicts of interest that he claimed US-based agencies faced.[298] European leaders are reportedly studying the possibility of setting up a European ratings agency in order that the private U.S.-based ratings agencies have less influence on developments in European financial markets in the future.[299][300] According to German consultant company Roland Berger, setting up a new ratings agency would cost €300 million. On 30 January 2012, the company said it was already collecting funds from financial institutions and business intelligence agencies to set up an independent non-profit ratings agency by mid 2012, which could provide its first country ratings by the end of the year.[301] In April 2012, in a similar attempt, the Bertelsmann Stiftung presented a blueprint for establishing an international non-profit credit rating agency (INCRA) for sovereign debt, structured in way that management and rating decisions are independent from its financiers.[302]

But attempts to regulate more strictly credit rating agencies in the wake of the European sovereign debt crisis have been rather unsuccessful. Some European financial law and regulation experts have argued that the hastily drafted, unevenly transposed in national law, and poorly enforced EU rule on ratings agencies (Regulation EC N° 1060/2009) has had little effect on the way financial analysts and economists interpret data or on the potential for conflicts of interests created by the complex contractual arrangements between credit rating agencies and their clients”[303]


There has been considerable controversy about the role of the English-language press in regard to the bond market crisis.[304][305]

Greek Prime Minister Papandreou is quoted as saying that there was no question of Greece leaving the euro and suggested that the ­crisis was politically as well as financially motivated. “This is an attack on the eurozone by certain other interests, political or financial”.[306] The Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has also suggested that the recent financial market crisis in Europe is an attempt to undermine the euro.[307][308] He ordered the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia intelligence service (National Intelligence Center, CNI in Spanish) to investigate the role of the “Anglo-Saxon media” in fomenting the crisis.[309][310] [311] [312] [313] [314] [315] So far no results have been reported from this investigation.

Other commentators believe that the euro is under attack so that countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., can continue to fund their large external deficits and government deficits,[316]and to avoid the collapse of the US dollar.[317][318][319] The U.S. and U.K. do not have large domestic savings pools to draw on and therefore are dependent on external savings e.g. from China.[320] [321] This is not the case in the eurozone which is self funding.[322] [323]


Both the Spanish and Greek Prime Ministers have accused financial speculators and hedge funds of worsening the crisis by short selling euros.[324] [325] German chancellor Merkel has stated that “institutions bailed out with public funds are exploiting the budget crisis in Greece and elsewhere.”[326]

According to The Wall Street Journal several hedge-fund managers launched “large bearish bets” against the euro in early 2010.[327] On February 8, the boutique research and brokerage firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. hosted an exclusive “idea dinner” at a private townhouse in Manhattan, where a small group of hedge-fund managers from SAC Capital Advisors LP,Soros Fund Management LLC, Green Light Capital Inc., Brigade Capital Management LLC and others argued that the euro was likely to fall to parity with the US dollar and were of the opinion that Greek government bonds represented the weakest link of the euro and that Greek contagion could soon spread to infect all sovereign debt in the world. Three days later the euro was hit with a wave of selling, triggering a decline that brought the currency below $1.36.[327] There was no suggestion by regulators that there was any collusion or other improper action.[327] On 8 June, exactly four months after the dinner, the Euro hit a four year low at $1.19 before it started to rise again.[328] Traders estimate that bets for and against the euro account for a huge part of the daily three trillion dollar global currency market.[327]

The role of Goldman Sachs[329] in Greek bond yield increases is also under scrutiny.[330] It is not yet clear to what extent this bank has been involved in the unfolding of the crisis or if they have made a profit as a result of the sell-off on the Greek government debt market.

In response to accusations that speculators were worsening the problem, some markets banned naked short selling for a few months.[331]

Odious debt

Main article: Odious debt

Some protesters, commentators such as Libération correspondent Jean Quatremer and the Liège based NGO Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM) allege that the debt should be characterized as odious debt.[332] The Greek documentary Debtocracy examines whether the recent Siemens scandal and uncommercial ECB loans which were conditional on the purchase of military aircraft and submarines are evidence that the loans amount to odious debt and that an audit would result in invalidation of a large amount of the debt.

National statistics

In 1992, members of the European Union signed an agreement known as the Maastricht Treaty, under which they pledged to limit their deficit spending and debt levels. However, a number of EU member states, including Greece and Italy, were able to circumvent these rules and mask their deficit and debt levels through the use of complex currency and credit derivatives structures.[29][30] The structures were designed by prominent U.S. investment banks, who received substantial fees in return for their services and who took on little credit risk themselves thanks to special legal protections for derivatives counterparties.[29] Financial reforms within the U.S. since the financial crisis have only served to reinforce special protections for derivatives—including greater access to government guarantees—while minimizing disclosure to broader financial markets.[333]

The revision of Greece’s 2009 budget deficit from a forecast of “6–8% of GDP” to 12.7% by the new Pasok Government in late 2009 (a number which, after reclassification of expenses under IMF/EU supervision was further raised to 15.4% in 2010) has been cited as one of the issues that ignited the Greek debt crisis.

This added a new dimension in the world financial turmoil, as the issues of “creative accounting” and manipulation of statistics by several nations came into focus, potentially undermining investor confidence.

The focus has naturally remained on Greece due to its debt crisis. There has however been a growing number of reports about manipulated statistics by EU and other nations aiming, as was the case for Greece, to mask the sizes of public debts and deficits. These have included analyses of examples in several countries [334] [335] [336] [337] or have focused on Italy, [338]the United Kingdom, [339] [340] [341] [342] [343] [344] [345] [346] Spain, [347] the United States, [348] [349] [350] and even Germany. [351] [352]

Collateral for Finland

On 18 August 2011, as requested by the Finnish parliament as a condition for any further bailouts, it became apparent that Finland would receive collateral from Greece, enabling it to participate in the potential new €109 billion support package for the Greek economy.[353] Austria, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Slovakia responded with irritation over this special guarantee for Finland and demanded equal treatment across the eurozone, or a similar deal with Greece, so as not to increase the risk level over their participation in the bailout.[354] The main point of contention was that the collateral is aimed to be a cash deposit, a collateral the Greeks can only give by recycling part of the funds loaned by Finland for the bailout, which means Finland and the other eurozone countries guarantee the Finnish loans in the event of a Greek default.[355]

After extensive negotiations to implement a collateral structure open to all eurozone countries, on 4 October 2011, a modified escrow collateral agreement was reached. The expectation is that only Finland will utilise it, due to i.a. requirement to contribute initial capital to European Stability Mechanism in one installment instead of five installments over time. Finland, as one of the strongest AAA countries, can raise the required capital with relative ease.[356]

At the beginning of October, Slovakia and Netherlands were the last countries to vote on the EFSF expansion, which was the immediate issue behind the collateral discussion, with a mid-October vote.[357] On 13 October 2011 Slovakia approved euro bailout expansion, but the government has been forced to call new elections in exchange.

In February 2012, the four largest Greek banks agreed to provide the €880 million in collateral to Finland in order to secure the second bailout program.[358]

Political impact

Handling of the ongoing crisis has led to the premature end of a number of European national governments and impacted the outcome of many elections:

  • Finland – April 2011 – The approach to the Portuguese bailout and the EFSF dominated the April 2011 election debate and formation of the subsequent government.
  • Greece – November 2011 – After intense criticism from within his own party, the opposition and other EU governments, for his proposal to hold a referendum on the austerity and bailout measures, PM George Papandreou announced his resignation in favour of a national unity government between three parties, of which only two currently remain in the coalition. Meanwhile, the popularity of Papandreou’s PASOK party dropped from 42.5% in 2010 to as low as 7% in some polls in 2012. Following the vote in the Greek parliament on the austerity and bailout measures, which both leading parties supported but many MPs of these two parties voted against, Papandreou and Antonis Samaras expelled a total of 44 MPs from their respective parliamentary groups, leading to PASOK losing its parliamentary majority. Early elections are likely to be held in 2012.
  • Ireland – November 2010 – In return for its support for the IMF bailout and consequent austerity budget, the junior party in the coalition government, the Green Party set a time-limit on its support for the Cowen Government which set the path to early elections in Feb 2011.
  • Italy – November 2011 – Following market pressure on government bond prices in response to concerns about levels of debt, the Government of Silvio Berlusconi lost its majority, resigned and was replaced by the Government of Mario Monti.
  • Portugal – March 2011 – Following the failure of parliament to adopt the government austerity measures, PM José Sócrates and his government resigned, bringing about early elections in June 2011.
  • Slovakia – October 2011 – In return for the approval of the EFSF by her coalition partners, PM Iveta Radičová had to concede early elections in March 2012.
  • Slovenia – September 2011 – Following the failure of June referendums on measures to combat the economic crisis and the departure of coalition partners, the Borut Pahorgovernment lost a motion of confidence and December 2011 early elections were set, following which Janez Janša became PM.
  • Spain – July 2011 – Following the failure of the Spanish government to handle the economic situation, PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced early elections in November. “It is convenient to hold elections this fall so a new government can take charge of the economy in 2012, fresh from the balloting” he said. Following the elections, Mariano Rajoybecame PM.

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  348. ^ “The Hidden American $100 Trillion Debt Problem”.Viable Opposition. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  349. ^ Goodman, Wes (30 March 2011). “Bill Gross says US is Out-Greeking the Greeks on Debt”Bloomberg. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
  350. ^ “Botox and beancounting Do official statistics cosmetically enhance America’s economic appearance?”Economist. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  351. ^ “Germany’s enormous hidden debt”PressEurop. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  352. ^ Vits, Christian (23 September 2011). “Germany Has 5 Trillion Euros of Hidden Debt, Handelsblatt Says”.Bloomberg. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  353. ^ “Finland Collateral Demands Threaten Bailout Solidarity”The Wall Street Journal. 19 August 2011.
  354. ^ Schneeweiss, Zoe, and Kati Pohjanpalo, “Finns Set Greek Collateral Trend as Austria, Dutch, Slovaks Follow Demands”Bloomberg, Aug 18, 2011 9:41 AM ET.
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[edit]External links

Categories: EU Observation Tags: , ,

The maths behind the madness

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Graphic detail

via The maths behind the madness.

Our interactive guide to reducing government debt

AFTER a brief hiatus, the euro crisis is back. Spain’s ten-year borrowing costs have been hitting highs not seen since the European Central Bank began injecting €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) of cheap money into the banking system in December. The country managed to auction €2.5 billion worth of bonds on April 19th, but paid 5.7% for ten-year money, 30 basis points higher than the last auction in January.

At what point does the debt of a nation become unsustainable? Our interactive graphic above shows the IMF’s latest forecasts for government gross debt as a percentage of GDP through to 2017. It also allows you to input your own long-term assumptions to project the likely path of debt out to 2020.

There are two things that matter in government-debt dynamics: the difference between real interest rates and GDP growth (r-g), and the primary budget balance as a % of GDP (ie, before interest payments). In any given period the debt stock grows by the existing debt stock (d) multiplied by r-g, less the primary budget balance (p).

The simple r-g assumption is one of the most important in debt dynamics: an r-g of greater than zero (when interest rates are greater than GDP growth) means that the debt stock increases over time. An r-g of less than zero causes it to fall.

Our interactive model uses the nominal interest rate (i)—approximately equivalent to the ten-year bond yield—and allows you to input your own inflation rate, ∏. Inflation helps reduce the total debt stock over time, by reducing the real value of debt. In our model and using approximations, r-g becomes i – ∏ – g. The greater the inflation rate, the lower r-g becomes.

The second consideration is the primary budget balance. A primary budget surplus causes the debt stock to fall, by allowing the government to pay off some of the existing debt. A primary deficit needs to be financed by further borrowing. As European peripheral countries have found out to their cost, interest rates increase when governments run large budget deficits, and as they do it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce r-g to a sustainable level.

In reality, these variables are all related. When inflation rises, for instance, bondholders will expect a higher nominal interest rate on new debt. If a country runs a larger primary surplus, the interest rate it is forced to pay may fall. Adjustments in countries’ deficits will also affect their growth rates. To keep matters simple, we have ignored these interactions. Our calculator shows the evolution of a government’s debt stock based directly on the values for inflation, growth, interest rates and the primary deficit that you determine.

Just small tweaks in these figures can have striking results. Using the average IMF forecasts for 2012-17, Spain’s debt is expected to rise from 69% of GDP in 2011 to 107% in 2020. If you increase the interest rate by just two percentage points to 7.1%, the debt level rises to 124%.

Categories: US Observation Tags: ,


April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

World In My Eyes

via 越南政改真刀真枪已将摸石头的中国甩在后面.

作者 北京特约记者 周西
温家宝总理不久前曾发出号召,我们“不仅要进行经济体制改革,而且要进行政治体制改革,特别是党和国家领导制度的改革”。我们今天的话题就从这里说起。对此,有网友点评说,温总理多年来对中国政治体制改革的呼吁,终于清清楚楚地落在了“党和国家领导制度的改革”上,如果有人再问,什么是政治体制改革?这,就是答案 (网友赵光勇)。


FT中文网上作者罗天昊的文章回顾说,事实上,1986年开始的越南“革新开放”,相对于中国改革开放,可谓是青出于蓝而胜于蓝。在政治领域,2002年,越南国会便可以直接质询越共中央政治局等权力核心机构;2006年,越共在其十大上,就已经实现了总书记的差额选举;同年,越南加入世贸组织,国会议员也实现了直选,越南国会甚至可以否决其政府总理提出的关于高铁投资的计划;到2009年,越南又实现了地方党委书记由党员直选的制度;2010年,越南就已经建立了官员财产申报制度,党政 军及社会组织、国有企业副科级以上的干部,都必须公开个人财产。


文章又说,打破旧世界与建设新世界,是两种完全不同的能力。在那些传统社会主义国家里,由于革命领袖们的巨大贡献,往往都享有崇高的威望,但由于他们的威望,大都是由革命而派生的,于是,继续革命乃至终生革命, 以致于无法完成自身角色转换的革命领袖比比皆是,他们大多都给国家造成了巨大的损失。致使在这些国家,总是要等到那些传统革命领袖们自然老去,第二代领导人才有力量启动国家现代化的计划,而类似的教训,在前社会主义阵营的国家里屡见不鲜。

在越南,胡志明是无可争议的革命领袖,其数十年的革命生涯,为举国上下所折服,以致于当胡志明于1969年去世之后,越南已经没有了绝对权威。胡志明的继任者黎笋,虽然也很强势,却仍然无法制衡党内的各种势力,这反而为越南政治的多样性,预留了巨大的战略空间。虽然黎笋奉行亲苏反华的政策,并直接引发了中越边境战争,但即便如此,在黎笋当政的十年间,越共党内的中间派和改革派,均有幸保留了相当的实力,并没有像某些国家那样,被残酷清洗一空。 因此,当黎笋于1986年去世之后,继任的温和派领导人长征,很快便利用其体制内程序,解放了被称为“越南的邓小平”的改革派领袖阮文灵。正是阮文灵的上台,促成了越南全面走上“革新开放”之路。


罗天昊的文章回顾说,越南在1976年宣布南北统一, 1986年即开始革新开放,在此十年间,越南的南北经济模式之优劣,对比明显。南北分治的时候,越南南方基本上由美国人经营,实行现代体制,经济相对发达,具有比较强的市场经济基础。其繁荣程度,已经超过了当时的泰国,西贡更是被称为“东方的巴黎”。而在越南统一之后,在南方采取了跟北方一致的政策,对所有的企业实行国有化,对农村实行集体化,把资本主义“扫地出门”。南方“北化”之后,越南人才发现,不仅北方不行了,原本繁荣的南方,亦开始凋敝。整个越南,就开始了反思和对比,在维持“政治正确”的前提下,南方搞经济的那一套,还是赢得了相当多的越南高层的认同。

同时,大批在南方工作的干部,纷纷进入越南高层,他们相对而言更具有现代眼光,这样,在改革的“顶层”设计上,越 南即与中国不同,他们的步伐更大,更容易接受新事物,富有闯荡的勇气。除越南改革的灵魂人物阮文灵外,前总理武文杰、前国家主席阮明哲、现总理阮晋勇等,都是越南党内改革派的棋手。而现在风头正劲的阮晋勇,正是典型的南方派,他的政治生涯,即从胡志明市发生飞跃。由此可见,越南的革新开放之后,对于现代文明的承接,要比中国成功得多。

文章接着说,虽然中国方面非常忌讳谈论越南的政治改革,但事实上,作为学生的越南确实已经将老师远远甩到了身后。越南政改的最大突破,莫过于越共总书记顺利实现了差额竟选,而这一职位,在其他社会主义国家,至今仍然是讳莫如深,无人敢于对其产生方式提出质疑。事实上,在实现总书记差额竞选之前,越南就先期对其政治局的设置进行了改革。早在2001 年,越共就取消了政治局常委,恢复设立了中央书记处,总书记是中央书记处成员,却不能担任国家元首之职;总理实权较大,但却无军权和党权;国家主席只具有名义上的军权和政权;总书记也仅有实际军权和有限的党权,但却无政权;国会主席职权虽虚,但近年来有一定充实。

文章最后强调说,而正是有了前期的铺垫,使得总书记不再是一权独大,再推出总书记的差额竞选,才不致引来巨大反弹。由此可见,在越共高层,党政军权力相当分散,呈现出程度不同的相互制衡色彩,这在某种意义上,已经越来越接近现代政治文明的基本要求了。此外,在核心实权职位改革的同时,越南最大的突破,是国会代表这种相对虚职的普遍竞选制度。2007年,在越南第十二届国会选举中,越南推行了国会代表差额竞选制度,从875位 候选人当中选出500位新任国会议员。

在很多“社会主义兄弟国家”,人大代表或者国会代表,要不就是官员,不是官员的代表,也多数是“花瓶”和门面。而越南的直选则是真刀真枪,越南共产党中央推荐的代表,甚至都有两位数的落选。国会代表的竞选,增强了整体政治活力,亦使国会更能代表多数国民的意志。 (注:文章作者为中国长江商学院前高级研究员,致力于国家及企业竞争战略研究。)

Argentina’s oil nationalisation and Brazilian interest rates

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Farewell, the New Frontier

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Today’s Opinion Columns

via Farewell, the New Frontier.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer

Opinion Writer

As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.

The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again. It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.

Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor. The planned follow-on — the Constellation rocket-capsule program to take humans back into orbit and from there to the moon — was suddenly canceled in 2010. And with that, control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China.

Russia went for the cash, doubling its price for carrying an astronaut into orbit to $55.8 million. (Return included. Thank you, Boris.)

China goes for the glory. Having already mastered launch and rendezvous, the Chinese plan to land on the moon by 2025. They understand well the value of symbols. And nothing could better symbolize China overtaking America than its taking our place on the moon, walking over footprints first laid down, then casually abandoned, by us.

Who cares, you say? What is national greatness, scientific prestige or inspiring the young — legacies of NASA — when we are in economic distress? Okay. But if we’re talking jobs and growth, science and technology, R&D and innovation — what President Obama insists are the keys to “an economy built to last” — why on earth cancel an incomparably sophisticated, uniquely American technological enterprise?

We lament the decline of American manufacturing, yet we stop production of the most complex machine ever made by man — and cancel the successor meant to return us to orbit. The result? Abolition of thousands of the most highly advanced aerospace jobs anywhere — its workforce abruptly unemployed and drifting away from space flight, never to be reconstituted.

Well, you say, we can’t afford all that in a time of massive deficits.

There are always excuses for putting off strenuous national endeavors: deficits, joblessness, poverty, whatever. But they shall always be with us. We’ve had exactly five balanced budgets since Alan Shepard rode Freedom 7 in 1961. If we had put off space exploration until these earthbound social and economic conundrums were solved, our rocketry would be about where North Korea’s is today.

Moreover, today’s deficits are not inevitable, nor even structural. They are partly the result of the 2008 financial panic and recession. Those are over now. The rest is the result of a massive three-year expansion of federal spending.

But there is no reason the federal government has to keep spending 24 percent of GDP. The historical postwar average is just over 20 percent — and those budgets sustained a robust manned space program.

NASA will tell you that it’s got a new program to go way beyond low-Earth orbit and, as per Obama’s instructions, land on an asteroid by the mid-2020s. Considering that Constellation did not last even five years between birth and cancellation, don’t hold your breath for the asteroid landing.

Nor for the private sector to get us back into orbit, as Obama assumes it will. True, hauling MREs up and trash back down could be done by private vehicles. But manned flight is infinitely more complex and risky, requiring massive redundancy and inevitably larger expenditures. Can private entities really handle that? And within the next lost decade or two?

Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Gene Cernan are deeply skeptical. “Commercial transport to orbit,” they wrote in a 2010 open letter, “is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.” They called Obama’s cancellation of Constellation a “devastating” decision that “destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.”

“Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides,” they warned, “the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity.” This, from “the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century.”

Which is why museum visits to the embalmed Discovery will be sad indeed. America rarely retreats from a new frontier. Yet today we can’t even do what John Glenn did in 1962, let alone fly a circa-1980 shuttle.

At least Discovery won’t suffer the fate of the Temeraire, the British warship tenderly rendered in Turner’s famous painting “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838.” Too beautiful for the scrapheap, Discovery will lie intact, a magnificent and melancholy rebuke to constricted horizons.

Categories: US Observation Tags: ,


April 20, 2012 Leave a comment


via 最值得关注的八家创业公司.

The Honest Company

创始人:著名女演员Jessica Alba和美国社交购物网站Shoedazzle联合创始人Brian Lee


该公司主要销售无毒性的婴儿产品。Alba希望将The Honest Company打造成这种品牌,并以此提供安全且精致的用品,该公司将拥有自己完整的生产流程,从产品设计到生产再到销售都将包括其中。

点评:曾被Business Insider评为最酷的创业公司,想法很好:销售无毒或无化学毒性的婴儿产品。但这是一个巨大的红海市场,什么是Honest最独一无二的极致卖点?并不是很清晰。


创始人:前Artsy营销总监Ruzwana Bashir和前Pipewise工程总监Oskar Bruening



点评:该公司的投资方包括Eric Schmidt,什么吸引了Google执行董事长Eric Schmidt的眼光?是人,还是项目?也许两者都有。如果高端旅游查找和体验能跟互联网有一个很好的结合,还是很值得期待的。


创始人:美国科技博客网站TechCrunch前撰稿人Sarah Lacy



点评:她要做TechCrunch2.0吗?答案是肯定的。PandoDaily的确继承了TechCrunch曾经的精华:1. 撰写高质量的科技内容和独家消息;2. 与著名科技写手合作;3. 创业发现。我相信PandoDaily会成为一个很不错的科技博客,但她到底能对TechCrunch的模式产生多大的升级,目前并没有看到太多动作。升级方向是社区化,但这可需要大投资,250万美元是不够花的。


创始人:知名企业战略和全球化解决方案顾问William Mougayar





创始人:前Mamram产品经理AmitAharonir和Boston Coonsulting Group项目负责人Steve Davis





创始人:Lauren Leto





创始人:两位前Google产品经理Emre Baran、Daniel Shellard和前Google营销经理Ian McCaig





创始人:Google产品顾问Ben Silbermann



点评:Pinterest绝对是当之无愧的酷公司。目前,国内已经诞生超过30家类Pinterest网站,不过它的牛X你学不会:1. 史上没有一家公司比Pinterest更快达到美国单月1千万不重复到访人数。2. 2012年以来,每日用户成长已超过145%;3. 所产生的推荐连结流量超过YouTube、Google+与LinkedIn总合。4. 使用者男女比率为13 : 87。

本文部分资料源于Business Insider



April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

可咔酷 | 网络杂货铺

via 20个个性的页脚设计的网站实例.


Seyart Design

WeNew Media

Stand & Ea


Grzegorz Kozak

Groovy Web Design

me & oli

Urban Pie


Duplos by Ricardo Mestre

Bristol Archive Records Talisman

Graduate Talent Pool

Mom & Popcorn

The Pixel


Mike Dascola

Blue Engineering

Gardener & Marks


James Garner


Categories: Design Tags: ,
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