- James I. Clark III
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Is the Eurozone Sustainable?
Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has asked policymakers to focus their crisis support on solvent Eurozone banks. “The ECB will continue lending to solvent banks and will keep the liquidity lines active and alive with solvent banks,” Draghi said.
World stock markets have lost roughly $4 trillion as European turmoil proliferated after inconclusive Greek elections and the danger of Spain’s finances being overwhelmed by its banking crisis. The ECB has taken the lead in fighting the turmoil by infusing the banking system with more than one trillion Euros ($1.24 trillion), cutting its benchmark rate to a record low and purchasing government bonds. When asked whether the ECB can tame financial turmoil and help cap widening bond spreads, Draghi said that “it’s not our duty, it’s not in our mandate” to “fill the vacuum left by the lack of action by national governments on the fiscal front,” on “the structural front, and on the governance front.”
Draghi favors using the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to inject capital into banks. “People are actually working on finding ways that the ESM could be used to recapitalize banks,” he said. “ The issue is not so much the use of ESM money to recapitalize banks but whether this could be done directly without having to go to governments.”
Despite the ECB’s efforts, Draghi admits that the setup of the 17-country euro currency union may be unsustainable. According to Draghi, the financial crisis proved the inadequacy of the financial and economic framework set up for the Eurozone. “That configuration that we had with us by and large for ten years which was considered sustainable, I should add, in a perhaps myopic way, has been shown to be unsustainable unless further steps are taken,” he said.
Draghi said the next step “is for our leaders to clarify what is the vision…what is the euro going to look like a certain number of years from now. The sooner this has been specified, the better it is.” In 1989, European Commission President Jacques Delors issued a breakthrough report that charted the initial path to the creation and launch of the Euro 10 years later and detailed goals. “The same thing should be done now,” Draghi said. He compared Europe’s efforts to those of someone crossing a river in thick fog while struggling against a strong current. “He or she continues fighting but does not see the other side because it is foggy. What we are asking is, to dispel this fog,” he said.
“Can the ECB fill the vacuum of lack of action by national governments on fiscal growth? The answer is no,” Draghi told the European Parliament.
Ongoing discussions about closer Eurozone economic union have been revived by growing apprehension that Spain may need an international bailout. June elections in Greece could see major wins by anti-bailout parties, possibly leading to the country’s departure from the Euro. Asked about the potential for a bank run, Draghi said: “We will avoid bank runs from solvent banks. Depositors’ money will be protected if we build this European guaranteed deposit fund. This will assure that depositors will be protected.”
Germany is loath to risk more of its taxpayers’ money to prop up Eurozone partners and has rejected any joint deposit guarantee. “The financial crisis has heightened risk aversion in a dramatic way,” Draghi said. “I urge all governments to keep this in mind, because it is better to err by too much in the very beginning rather than by too little,” he said, referring to the failure of regulators to correctly assess the needs of failed Franco-Belgian bank Dexia and Spain’s Bankia.
Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco said political inertia and bad economic decisions had put “the entire European edifice” at risk and only a clear path to political union could save the Euro. “There are now growing doubts among international investors about governments’ cohesion in guiding the reform of European governance and even their ability to ensure the survival of the single currency,” Visco said.
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said Europe needs tighter budget discipline and more integrated rescue funds to forestall the Euro’s breakup. “We need a genuine stability culture and a much upgraded common capacity to contain common contagion,” he said. “This is the case, at least if we want to avoid a disintegration of the euro zone and instead make the euro succeed.”