Sunday 27 May 2012


The Financial Times reports the latest financial trick to emerge from the euro crisis. The Spanish government, which cannot sell its bonds at less than disastrous yields, has decided to bail out one of its major banks, Bankia, by directly giving it Spanish government debt securities that it would then exchange with the European Central Bank (ECB) for much-needed euro cash. This will help the Spanish state find the funds – reported as €19bn – to manage the overall bank bail out. Apparently, Cyprus will follow suit.

My view has been that the euro project is such a longstanding and important construct for the major European powers – Germany and France – that they will move heaven and earth to defend it. Earlier plans attempted to create a firewall around Greece, though still to keep it within the euro system. I admit to some reconsideration now.

It is not simply the possible rejection of austerity measures in Greece that creates for Germany and other creditor countries the prospect of unending, unproductive subsidies that they are likely to reject. The scale of the problems in Spain, and other countries too, means that the numbers have simply become too large. When it comes to hundreds of billions of euros, then Germany and other creditor countries in Europe will begin to ask questions: can this money be better spent than on bailing out recalcitrant bankrupts? Especially when their actions, as with Spain’s latest move, only add to the burgeoning liabilities of the ECB. Spain is essentially saying that ‘We cannot pay for the bail out, so we are passing the ball to Europe’ – ie the creditor countries who will back up the ECB.

This is such a big crisis that the resolution is not something to be sorted out over a policy weekend, as many previous weekends have shown. It is also more than facile to expect anything progressive from Hollande, who will simply act to protect France’s interests in the troubles ahead – essentially by making Germany pay more, if possible. A long, hot summer is ahead in Europe.

Tony Norfield, 27 May 2012

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