Two Steps to a Fiscal Union for the Eurozone… & A Third Step to Distract Attention from the First Two

The Urgent Need at a Minimum For a Government White Paper

“It would be tragic and fatal if we were to lose democracy on the road to saving the euro”

- Dr Andreas Vosskuhle, President of the German Constitutional Court, 2011

“There are 27 of us. Clearly, down the line, we will have to include the Balkans. There will be 32, 33 or 34 of us. No one thinks that federalism, total integration, will be possible with 33, 34, or 35 States. Clearly there will be a two-speed Europe: one speed that moves towards a Federation for the Eurozone and one speed for a Confederation within the European Union.”

- French President Sarkozy, 8 Nov. 2011

BACKGROUND:

The Economic and Monetary Union which Ireland signed up to under the 1992 Maastricht and 2009 Lisbon Treaties assumed that the 3% and 60% of GDP deficit rules for every Eurozone State would be abided by and enforced by means of the sanctions – warnings, special deposits, fines etc. – which are set out in those treaties.  If they had been and if the rules of the EU treaties had been enforced for all, there would have been no sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone and no need for any Eurozone bailout fund, either temporary or permanent.

When Germany and France broke the rules of the EMU by running big government deficits in 2003, the EU treaty sanctions to enforce the 3% and 60% deficit rules were not applied against them, and they were thereafter effectively dropped for everyone else. Ireland did not break these excessive deficit rules however.

Now – to deal with the dire consequences for millions of people of this failure to enforce the rules of the original EMU, while at the same time increasing their own political sway over the Eurozone –  Germany and France, supported by the Brussels Commission, are seeking to change the whole basis of the Economic and Monetary Union which Ireland signed up to. They are doing this by establishing a permanent  €500 billion ESM bailout fund which is to be surrounded by a whole panoply of controls over national budgetary policy, including the permanent balanced budget rule (0.5% deficit rule) proposed in the “Fiscal Compact Treaty” that German Chancellor Merkel insisted on over Christmas.

In considering the possible implications of all this it is worth bearing in mind that in 2014, just two years time, under the Lisbon Treaty Germany’s vote in making EU laws will double from its present 8% of total Council votes to 16%, while France’s and Italy’s vote will go from their present 8% each to 12% each, and Ireland’s vote will halve to 1%. Similar proportional changes will be made in voting within the Eurozone.

The temporary Eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Facility (EFSF), which was established to lend money to Greece in May 2010, and from which Portugal and Ireland subsequently got bailouts, was established under Art.122 TFEU of the EU Treaties. This Article permits Union financial assistance to be granted when a Member State is in “severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control”. Excessive budget deficits built up over long periods of time are scarcely what this Article was meant to cover, so the very questionable legal basis, to say the least, of the temporary fund has led to this Article being now abandoned and replaced by an entirely new EU Treaty provision, an amendment to Article 136 TFEU, to give a long-term legal basis in European law to the permanent €500 billion bailout fund which the Eurozone States want to set up from this July. Ireland commits itself to making an €11 billion contribution to this fund in various forms of capital by means of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty which can be concluded amongst the 17 Eurozone countries once the EU 27 have amended Art.136 TFEU so as to give permission for it in European law.

The Government wants the Dáil and Seanad to approve this hugely important Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU treaties during the current Dail term without any referendum of the Irish people even though this amendment and its legal/political consequences would mark a qualitative change in the direction of the EU and in the character, scope and objectives of the Economic and Monetary Union which the Irish people signed up to when they approved by referendum the 1992 Maastricht and the 2009 Lisbon Treaties. The amendment to Article 136 would extend the scope of the existing EU treaties significantly and bears a huge weight of legal/political consequences. It reads: “The Member States whose currency is the euro may establish a stability mechanism to be activated if indispensable to safeguard the stability of the euro area as a whole. The granting of any required financial assistance under the mechanism will be made subject to strict conditionality.”

Approval or non-approval by Ireland of the authorization by the 27 EU States of this permanent bailout fund for the Eurozone is the only thing on which the State still has a veto – unless the Dáil and Seanad throw that veto away by failing to insist on it being used. That is why the media and opinion-formers should urge the Government to exercise it. If the Government is too afraid of the wrath of “Merkozy” and the Brussels Commission to do that, our media and public opinion should call on some public-spirited party or individual to challenge that failure before the Courts.

For if a referendum on approval of the European Council Decision to adopt the Art.136 EU amendment were found to be constitutionally necessary in Ireland, it would put the State in a powerful position to exact major concessions on the national debt, on the Anglo-Irish promissory notes and on the terms of the Troika’s Memorandum of Understanding in order to persuade Irish voters to agree by referendum to the Art.136 amendment of the EU Treaties permitting a permanent Eurozone bailout fund to be established. Why should the Government throw away Ireland’s best bargaining card in this way? Why should it be afraid to take the only course which offers hope of rapid radical relief to the people’s current dire straits?

Such a constitutional challenge, if it were to be taken, would need to show that the Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU Treaties is a claim to, and an assertion of, a significant extension of EU powers, scope and competences which cannot legally be brought into force in Ireland by the “simplifed” EU treaty revision procedure of Art.48(6) TEU that was used to adopt the amendment,  whatever may be the constitutional position in the other EU States … And that therefore approving it in Ireland requires prior permission from voters in a referendum, as a significant surrender of Irish State sovereignty would be involved.  

It is not just issues of EU law that are at stake here. It is widely recognised among economists that the proposed ESM Treaty and the permanent funding mechanism it would establish for the Eurozone, with their accompanying apparatus of controls of national budgets, go nowhere near to solving the current financial crisis of the euro area. A challenge to the constitutionality of the Government’s proposed mode of approval of the Art.136 TFEU amendment would open a valuable opportunity for the adoption by the Eurozone Member States of a more rational and effective scheme for dealing with the area’s financial crisis, with more emphasis on stimulating economic growth and demand across the area, to the benefit of the common good of Ireland and the other Eurozone countries.

STEP 1 TO THE NEW EMU:



The  27-MEMBER EUROPEAN COUNCIL “DECISION” TO MAKE THE ART.136 TFEU AMENDMENT TO THE EU TREATIES

This “Decision” of the European Council of 27 Prime Ministers and Presidents was made in March 2011 (Decision 2011/199/EU) and gives permission under EU law to the 17 Eurozone Member States to set up a permanent bailout fund for the Eurozone.  Ireland has a veto on this Decision, for before it can come into force it must be approved by all 27 EU Member States “in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements”. This means that in Ireland the European Council “Decision” to make this Art.136 amendment requires approval either by the Oireachtas or by the people in a referendum. It calls for the latter if the amendment – despite the implicit claim of those deciding on it that it does not extend EU powers – does in fact extend them, and does in effect entail a surrender of State sovereignty which goes beyond the original “license” which the Irish people gave the State in earlier referendums to join a “developing” European Community/Union.

In other words, approving the “Decision” of the European Council to amend the EU Treaties requires a referendum in Ireland if it can be shown to widen the scope and objectives of the present EU treaties by significantly increasing the powers of the EU. Under the so-called “self-amending” Article 48(6) TEU which was inserted in the EU treaties by the Treaty of Lisbon, the 27-Member European Council of Prime Ministers and Presidents can take decisions to amend most provisions in the policy areas of the EU treaties as long as such amendment does not increase the Union’s powers/competences. For the European Council to purport to authorise under EU law the setting up of a permanent bail-out fund for a sub-group of EU States can arguably be said to be a significant claim to, and assertion of, increased powers for the EU as a whole, as up to now the EU treaties provided for no such fund or mechanism in the Monetary Union either directly or indirectly. The treaties provided rather for an EU Monetary Union which would not require or permit cross-national “bailouts” under any circumstances and would be run on quite different principles to what is being now proposed.

If the Eurozone can set up a Stability Mechanism “intergovernmentally” amongst its 17 Member States, why is any amendment to the EU Treaties by the 27 to permit that needed? It seems plausible to contend therefore that this Art.136 TFEU amendment would put the Economic and Monetary Union which Ireland signed up to when the people ratified the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties on a quite new and different basis. This new basis would entail a significant move towards a Fiscal Union for the 17 Eurozone States in addition to the Monetary Union, as well as an Irish commitment to a panoply of accompanying supranational controls over national budgetary policy. Therefore it arguably would be unconstitutional for the Oireachtas to attempt to give the necessary approval of such a European Council Decision without an Irish referendum.



STEP 2 TO THE NEW EMU:



THE EUROPEAN STABILITY MECHANISM TREATY (ESM) BETWEEN THE 17 EUROZONE STATES

The European Stability Mechanism Treaty sets up the European Stability Mechanism, an entity with legal personality of which Ireland would become a member. It sets out the institutional structure and rights and privileges of this “ Mechanism”. The Mechanism will include a permanent €500 billion bailout fund and the treaty stipulates the contributions which each of the 17 Eurozone Members must make to it in accordance with a “contribution key” annexed to it. The ESM Treaty provides that the fund may be increased later by agreement and there is already talk of increasing it. Ireland must contribute €11 billion to it “irrevocably and unconditionally” in various forms of capital.  The ESM Treaty was signed by EU ambassadors on 2 February 2012 – replacing an earlier ESM Treaty which was signed by Minister Michael Noonan and other Eurozone Finance Ministers in July last year but which was never sent around for ratification. The 17 Eurozone States have agreed that this ESM Treaty No.2 will be ratified so that it can to come into force by July this year. The Government has in mind to bring it before the Oireachtas for approval in this session, so it is likely to be introduced to the Dáil on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

A Dáil motion to approve the ratification of the ESM Treaty for the 17 will presumably be taken at the same time as the motion to approve the “Decision” of the European Council of 27 Prime Ministers and Presidents to insert the Art.136 amendment into the EU Treaties by means of the  “simplified” amendment procedure of Art.48(6) TEU.   There will presumably also be an accompanying European Communities Amendment Bill to implement the Art.136 TFEU amendment and the provisions of the consequential ESM Treaty in Irish domestic law.

The ESM Treaty is to come into force once it is ratified by signatories representing 90% of the initial capital of the fund, so that Ireland has no veto on it.

The preamble to the ESM Treaty states (Recital 5) that it is agreed that money from the permanent ESM fund will only be given to Eurozone States which have ratified the later “Fiscal Compact Treaty” and its permanent balanced budget rule or “debt brake” and that the two treaties are complementary.

In 2011 Attorney-General, Mr Paul Gallagher SC advised the then Fianna Fail Government that there would be no constitutional problem in Ireland with the European Council “Decision” to make the Article 136 TFEU amendment to the EU treaties because, he advised, authorizing a sub-group of 17 Eurozone States to set up a permanent bailout fund for the Euro area does not extend the competences of the EU. Mr Gallagher had previously advised Messrs Cowen and Lenihan on the night of the September 2008 blanket guarantee for the Irish banks. He also advised that the ESM Treaty for the Eurozone which would be authorized by the Art.136 TFEU amendment to the EU treaties would not raise constitutional problems here either. That advice was given however in relation to ESM Treaty No. 1 which was later signed by Finance Minister Michael Noonan and the other Eurozone Finance Ministers but was never sent around for ratification. Mr Gallagher was not dealing with the agreement amongst the Eurozone States in ESM Treaty No. 2 that any money from the permanent bailout fund when that was set up would only be given to States which had inserted a ”debt brake” into their national Constitutions or the equivalent under the provisions of the Fiscal Compact Treaty, for Chancellor Mertkel had not yet even mooted that.

It is desirable that the advice of Attorney-General Máire Whelan SC on the constitutionality of the Art.136 TFEU amendment to the EU treaties and the ESM Treaty No.2 which follows from that, should be made available to the public, preferably through the medium of a Government White Paper.

[N.B. It is unusual for an EU-related treaty to be signed by anyone other than EU Prime Ministers and Presidents. In the case of the ESM Treaty (No. 2) it was signed by Eurozone ambassadors to the EU on 2 February 2012. Was this meant to minimize public attention to its signing?]

A THIRD STEP THAT HAS DISTRACTED ATTENTION IN IRELAND FROM THE FIRST TWO…

THE “FISCAL COMPACT TREATY” (TREATY ON STABILITY, COORDINATION AND GOVERNANCE IN THE ECONOMIC AND MONETARY UNION)

The Fiscal Compact Treaty, properly titled the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG), was insisted on by German Chancellor Angela Merkel over winter 2011, essentially as a gesture towards German public opinion. When the Deutschmark was being abolished in 1999 the German people were not told that they would be committed to an EU Monetary Union with a huge permanent bailout fund to which they would be expected to be the principal net contributors. Rather they were told instead that the “no-bailout clause” of the EU treaties, Art.125 TFEU, guaranteed that there would be no bailouts by the others for any Member State using the single currency which did not abide by the excessive deficit rules. Germans are naturally indignant at the radical change in the EMU that is now being proposed. Chancellor Merkel’s insistence on a permanent balance budget provision /”debt brake” being inserted into national Constitutions by means of the Fiscal Compact Treaty, as was done in Germany two years ago, is meant to reassure her voting public that in budgetary matters the other 16 Member States of the Eurozone, including Ireland, will henceforth behave like Germans! Yet most economists regard a permanent balanced budget rule as absurdly inflexible, for Governments do need to run deficits on occasion in order to stimulate their economies and expand economic demand when that slumps heavily in their domestic or foreign markets.

Approving the European Council Decision to insert the Art.136 amendment into the EU treaties, ratifying the subsequent ESM Treaty with its strict budgetary rules in early March and ratifying what is stated to be the “complementary” Fiscal Compact Treaty towards the end of this year will have the effect of removing virtually the whole area of budgetary policy from the national to the supranational level of the Eurozone – without a referendum in Ireland or even a Government White Paper on the implications of that. It should be noted that the additional wording of Art.136, which is being asked to carry a heavy burden of subsequent changes, does not amend or even refer to the “no bailout clause” of Art.125 TFEU.

These developments would remove much of the stuff of national decision-making and normal party politics from the arena of democratic consideration and debate in this country.

The provisions of the Fiscal Compact Treaty were agreed at the EU summit on 30 January but they will not be put into proper treaty form and signed  by the 17 Eurozone States until March – probably at the EU/Eurozone summit meeting on next Friday. They need not be ratified until the end of this year. This treaty provides for a permanent balanced budget rule or “debt brake” of 0.5% of GDP in any one year to be inserted in Eurozone national Constitutions or the equivalent.  All 17 Eurozone States must ratify this treaty, but it comes into force once it is ratified by 12 of them, so that Ireland does not have a veto on it.

The preamble to the Fiscal Compact Treaty refers to the fact that money from the new permanent bailout fund (the ESM fund) will only be given to States which have ratified it. As treaties for the 17-Member Eurozone, both the ESM Treaty and the Fiscal Compact Treaty derive from the 27-Member amendment to the EU Treaties referred to in Step 1 above. Most of the provisions of the Fiscal Compact Treaty overlap with the so-called “Six Pack” of EU regulations and a directive which constitutes the “Reinforced Stability and Growth Pact”, and which were put into EU law last December.



It is important to note that the European Stability Mechanism Treaty and the Fiscal Compact Treaty are not EU treaties binding in EU law, but are rather “intergovernmental treaties” amongst the 17 Member States of the Eurozone, although they provide for the full involvement of the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice in their day-to-day implementation. 



The Government has invited public submissions on this Fiscal Compact Treaty to be made to an Oireachtas Committee over the coming months, which is a most unusual development. Presumably this is meant to distract media and public attention from the implications of approving the Art.136 amendment to the EU Treaties, on which Ireland has a veto, without a referendum, and ratifying the ESM Treaty which derives from that. 

These are clear moves towards a fiscal union for the Eurozone, and the Oireachtas is being invited to approve them in the next couple of weeks without any significant public discussion, at least to judge by the virtual total silence on them to date. At a minimum the Irish public deserves a White Paper on these hugely important developments before Ireland’s last EU veto of significance is abandoned and it becomes too late to save further large areas of our national democracy.



Issued for public information by the
National Platform EU Research and Information Centre

February 27, 2012
janthonycoughlan at gmail dot com
24 Crawford Ave. Dublin 9 01-8305792
First published online @ http://www.indymedia.ie/article/101440

What the Euro-Federalists want in the face of the debt crisis

“By the end of the summer Angela Merkel and I will be making joint proposals on economic government in the eurozone. We will give a clearer vision of the way we see the Eurozone evolving. Our ambition is to seize the Greek crisis to make a quantum leap in Eurozone government…The very words were once taboo.(Now) it has entered the European vocabulary. . . France has fought for a long time for an economic government of the euro zone. We can’t keep having a currency disconnected from economic policy. We have done something historic … There was no European Monetary Fund. We’re not there yet, but we’re progressing, and we have to continue towards that … To arrive at this economic integration we have to work on convergence. Naturally, France and Germany, being the two biggest countries of the Eurozone, have to lead by example.”

- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Post-Summit Press conference, Irish Independent 22 July; Irish Times 23 July 2011

“With Italy and Spain infected by the contagion that Ireland, Greece and Portugal were unable to recover from, completing the euro project by creating a fiscal union appears to be the only real alternative to preventing it joining failed monetary unions in the dustbin of history. The issuing of eurobonds has consequences far beyond finance and economics. For euro zone states to fund themselves with euro bonds would be a step towards full political union. But this has always been the project’s ultimate end-point. And for good reason … As long as integration is Europe’s destiny, it is Ireland’s destiny too.”

- Irish Times editorial, Saturday 16 July 2011

“Europe will eventually have to operate more like the United States when it comes to raising funds on international markets, but nobody envisages getting to that point for several years at least. But by expanding the European Financial Stability Fund last night, the early outlines of such a system are clearly visible. Europe simply must act collectively when its individual members have critical debt problems and that will eventually mean some kind of Europe-wide debt agency.”

- Irish Independent editorial, Saturday 23 July 2011

“We have a shared currency but no real economic or political union. This must change. If we were to achieve this, therein lies the opportunity of the crisis… And beyond the economic, after the shared currency, we will perhaps dare to take further steps, for example for a European army”.

- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Open Europe Press Digest, 13 May 2010

COMMENT ON THE ABOVE by Anthony Coughlan

In mid-July British Chancellor George Osborne said that he now favoured the 17 Eurozone States moving towards a fiscal/political union as the best way of saving the euro-currency, but that the UK had no intention of joining that.

This seemed to signal a major change in UK Government policy as it has been for the past half century. It implies that Britain now favours a two-tier or two-speed EU, whereas up to now successive British Governments have always wanted to be in the inner EU circle along with the French and Germans in deciding fundamental policy.

It means too that Britain is happy enough if the Republic moves with the other Eurozone States towards a fiscal/political union amongst the 17, while Northern Ireland stays with Britain in the wider EU of the 27.

This raises the question so far as Northern Nationalists, are concerned why should they support the concept of a United Ireland if in practice it means little more than exchanging a British-dominated monetary and fiscal union for a Franco-German dominated one? And why should Northern Unionists find the latter prospect more politically attractive than their present one?

The Irish Debacle: the Republic’s path to subordination to the ECB, EU Commission and IMF Troika

Future historians will surely see Ireland’s joining the Eurozone in 1999 and abolishing its national currency to adopt the euro as the worst policy mistake ever made by the Irish State. It was an act of gross irresponsibility on the part of a political class that had come to see themselves as “good Europeans” first and upholders of the national interests of its own people second. Explaining how this mindset came about will be a challenge to the country’s historians and social psychologists.

The Republic of Ireland joined the Eurozone on its establishment even though it did nearly two-thirds of its trade – exports and imports together – outside the area. It did some one-third of its trade with the Eurozone, one-third with the UK and one-third with America and the rest of the world. (The proportions for 2008 were : Total trade – Eurozone 34%, UK 24%, Rest of world 42%; Exports – Eurozone 39%, UK19%, Rest of world 42%; Imports – Eurozone 25%, UK 33%, Rest of world 42%, in the Statistical Yearbook of Ireland 2009). Its Europhile politicians assumed at the time that Britain would adopt the Euro before long, which would put the bulk of Irish trade inside rather than outside the Eurozone. But of course Britain did not and will not.

Moreover when Ireland joined the Eurozone it had been experiencing for over half a decade its “Celtic Tiger” economic boom. The period 1993 to 1999 was the only period in the history of the Irish State, which was established in 1921, that it followed an independent exchange rate policy and let the Irish pound float, thereby giving priority to its real economy of production and employment. This gave it a highly competitive exchange rate, which encouraged massive inward foreign investment, boosted exports and underpinned average annual growth rates in those years of 9% of GDP.

In the early 2000s, the first years of Eurozone membership, the euro itself fell against the dollar and pound sterling, which added to Ireland’s competitiveness in external trade. Unfortunately the growth rate then slowed, as output expansion shifted from exports to the domestic sector in response to the Eurozone’s unsuitably low interest regime and the housing and property boom of the early 2000s.

Eurozone interest rates were low in those years to suit Germany and France, whose economies were in recession. Ireland more than halved interest rates on joining EMU, even though it needed higher rates to cap its boom. This gave huge impetus to the borrowing binge that followed between 2001 and 2007. This was concentrated on the market and expanding domestic demand. It made the Republic of Ireland’s property bubble one of the biggest in the world.

Having surrendered control of monetary policy on joining EMU, the Irish Government let fiscal policy rip. It cut taxes and raised spending, buoyed by revenue from the booming property market. This began the process which landed the State with annual public sector deficits of over 10% of GDP and set the scene for the disastrous bank policy it adopted post-2008.

Ireland’s blank bank guarantee

When the property bubble burst some Irish banks were insolvent because of bad property loans and all had serious bad debts. In September 2008 Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan gave their infamous blanket guarantee to the Irish banks, from which the intolerable debt burden, the credit crunch, and the current crucifixion of the Irish economy all stem.

It would have been reasonable enough for the Irish Government to guarantee peoples’ deposits in the banks, the savings of citizens, and so head off a bankrun. Its folly was to give a simultaneous State guarantee to the creditors and bondholders of the Irish banks, and in particular the notorious Anglo-Irish Bank, a property developers’ bank which was in no way “systemic” to the country’s finances.

Unlike depositors, who can withdraw their money, creditors/bondholders cannot run anywhere. These were mostly foreign banks from which the Irish banks had borrowed vast sums over the years for on-lending to Ireland’s property market and which had made good profits on those loans.

At the time of the blanket bank guarantee Jean- Claude Trichet, Governor of the European Central Bank (ECB), phoned Finance Minister Lenihan from Frankfurt and told him that on no account should he let any Irish bank fail. If the insolvent Anglo-Irish Bank had been let go, the German, British and French banks which had lent that one bank alone some €30 billion for on-lending to the Irish property market, would have been badly hit. There could have been a chain reaction of bank failures across the Eurozone.

The European banks, and some American ones, had been happy to make money stoking the asset bubbles of the PIGS countries – Portugal, Ireland. Greece and Spain – under EMU and now feared these countries’ banks defaulting. Banks in Germany, France and Britain together had over €300 billion of exposure to the Irish banks and property market. In proportion to population size this was nearly ten times their exposure to Spain.

So with property prices plummeting and the investments of these foreign banks threatening to go belly-up, the Irish Government promised that the Irish State and Irish taxpayers would ensure that foreign creditors got their money back in full. There would be no default on senior bondholders of the country’s banks even if it meant years of pain for the Irish people, a credit crunch for local business, deflation, austerity, high unemployment and a return to mass emigration for the country’s youth.

The Irish Government gave this blanket bank guarantee on the assumption that its banks would have the backing henceforth of M.Trichet and the ECB. They got that for the next two years. During this time the ECB lent money at 1% interest to the Irish banks. Then in September 2010 the ECB grew alarmed at the size of the sums being demanded of it and the poor quality of the collateral the banks were offering against those loans.

Bailout/stitch-up by the EU

That month the two-year blanket bank guarantee was up, but the Irish Government, in line with ECB policy, renewed it. Although the Government had enough money to finance its own bills until mid-2011, it could not simultaneously guarantee the debts of Anglo-Irish and its other insolvent or near insolvent banks. With naïve trust in its Eurozone “partners”, the Government stood by its guarantee that no German, French or British bank would suffer. It would see to it that Ireland’s taxpayers would continue to pay off the debts of its insolvent local banks.

Two months later, in November, the EU pulled the ground from under the Irish Government. The European Central Bank told it that it would no longer lend Ireland money at 1% interest, but would organize a loan instead from its “shock-and-awe” fund which had been set up in May to lend to Greece, the European Financial Stabilisation Facility, at 5.8%. The Irish Government bowed to the harsh terms of the €67 billion loan being pushed on it by the ECB and the EU Commission, with the IMF in tow. US Treasury Secretary Geithner vetoed an IMF suggestion that senior bondholders in Ireland’s banks bear some of the costs. They would be paid in full. A troika of the ECB, the EU Commission and the IMF took over detailed management of Ireland’s finances and began supervising the release of the various tranches of the loan.

It was a humiliating culmination to the Irish political elite’s long love-affair with Brussels. As an editorial put it in the Irish Times, the paper which for decades had been the most uncritical advocate of each step of further EU integration by the Irish State: The EU/IMF loan and the conditions attached to it “represents nonetheless a defeat for this State which has turned us, in the blink of an eye, from European success story to a people at the mercy of the benevolence of others. It was notable that the announcement was made in Brussels and only after that was the Government able to hold its press conference in Dublin.” (29 Nov 2010)

In this way Ireland has been turned into a vast debt-service machine by the criminal incompetence of its own chief policy-makers and the demands of the European Central Bank. It has become a “bankocracy”, ruled by bankers. In December the Financial Times nominated Ireland’s Brian Lenihan, for the second year in succession, as the worst Finance Minister in Europe. In February this year the Fianna Fail Party, which had held office during the Republic’s boom and bust and which had dominated Irish politics since the 1930s, got its deserved come-uppance. It fell from 77 out of the 166 seats in the Irish Parliament to 20.

It was replaced by a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government, with 113 seats between them, which however has to date continued the same policy as its predecessor and is dutifully implementing the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding with the ECB, the EU Commission and the IMF Troika.

This Irish debacle should make small countries that are outside the Eurozone thank heaven they are not in it.

For Your Information: Ireland, EU, Eurozone, Banks & Economy – News & Analysis

Ghosts of debt and jobs will haunt economy
The Irish Times – Tuesday, December 29, 2009
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/1229/1224261354227.html
Morgan Kelly
OPINION : By 2015, Iceland will almost certainly be a lot better off than Ireland because it dealt decisively with its banks.

For grand corruption, though, we will have to look to Nama. By allowing the banks to dictate the terms of their bailout, the bank rescue was turned into the most lucrative and audacious Tiger Kidnapping in the history of the State, with the difference that, like the sheriff in Blazing Saddles, the bankers held themselves hostage.

Bad banks like Nama were tried on a large scale in the early 1930s in the US, Austria and Germany; and proved to be profoundly corrupt and corrupting institutions, whose primary purpose was to funnel money to politically connected businesses. The German bank is best remembered for setting up what we would now call a special purpose vehicle to fund the presidential election campaign of the odious Paul Hindenberg.

Bad banks do not just happen to be corrupt and anti-democratic institutions, it is what they are designed to be. Effectively, bad banks give governments the power to choose which of a country’s most powerful oligarchs will be forced into bankruptcy, and which will be resuscitated to emerge even more powerful than before.

Nama will get to pick which of the fattest hogs of Irish development will be sliced up and fed, at taxpayer expense, to better connected hogs (remember that Nama has been allocated at least €6.5 billion, considerably more than the Government saved by draconian budget cuts, to “lend” to favoured clients).

While Nama may have momentous political consequences, it has already failed economically: the Irish banks are still zombies, reliant on transfusions of European Central Bank funding to survive until losses on mortgages and business loans finally wipe them out. In the next few months we will discover if the State bankrupts itself by nationalising the banks; or if it has the intelligence to free itself from bank losses by turning the foreign creditors of banks into their owners, as Iceland has just done with Kaupthing bank.

It is ironic that by 2015, having devalued its currency and dealt decisively with its banks, Iceland will almost certainly be a lot better off than Ireland.


Why the eurozone has a tough decade to come
Financial Times – January 6 2010
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/54cc3b20-fa62-11de-beed-00144feab49a.html
Martin Wolf

What would have happened during the financial crisis if the euro had not existed? The short answer is that there would have been currency crises among its members. The currencies of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would surely have fallen sharply against the old D-Mark. That is the outcome the creators of the eurozone wished to avoid. They have been successful. But, if the exchange rate cannot adjust, something else must instead. That “something else” is the economies of peripheral eurozone member countries. They are locked into competitive disinflation against Germany, the world’s foremost exporter of very high-quality manufactures. I wish them luck.
[...]
Where does that leave peripheral countries today? In structural recession, is the answer. At some point, they have to slash fiscal deficits. Without monetary or exchange rate offsets, that seems sure to worsen the recession already caused by the collapse in their bubble-fuelled private spending. Worse, in the boom years, these countries lost competitiveness within the eurozone. That was also inherent in the system. The interest rates set by the European Central Bank, aimed at balancing supply and demand in the zone, were too low for bubble-fuelled countries. With inflation in sectors producing non-tradeables relatively high, real interest rates were also relatively low in these countries. A loss of external competitiveness and strong domestic demand expanded external deficits. These generated the demand needed by core countries with excess capacity. To add insult to injury, since the core country is highly competitive globally and the eurozone has a robust external position and a sound currency, the euro itself has soared in value.

This leaves peripheral countries in a trap: they cannot readily generate an external surplus; they cannot easily restart private sector borrowing; and they cannot easily sustain present fiscal deficits. Mass emigration would be a possibility, but surely not a recommendation. Mass immigration of wealthy foreigners, to live in now-cheap properties, would be far better. Yet, at worst, a lengthy slump might be needed to grind out a reduction in nominal prices and wages. Ireland seems to have accepted such a future. Spain and Greece have not. Moreover, the affected country would also suffer debt deflation: with falling nominal prices and wages, the real burden of debt denominated in euros will rise. A wave of defaults – private and even public – threaten.

The crisis in the eurozone’s periphery is not an accident: it is inherent in the system. The weaker members have to find an escape from the trap they are in. They will receive little help: the zone has no willing spender of last resort; and the euro itself is also very strong. But they must succeed. When the eurozone was created, a huge literature emerged on whether it was an optimal currency union. We know now it was not. We are about to find out whether this matters.


Are we about to see the end of the much-vaunted eurozone?
The Observer – Sunday 3 January 2010
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/03/peter-oborne-end-of-eurozone
Peter Oborne
In putting financial considerations before social ones, the governments of Europe have ensured that things can only get worse

It is nearly 20 years since the Conservative chancellor of the exchequer Norman Lamont made his notorious remark that unemployment was a “price worth paying” for the restoration of economic stability. Lamont was at once condemned for his comments, made at the height of Britain’s ill-fated membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. The progressive left universally denounced him as arrogant, brutal and out of touch. And yet, only two decades later, the European left has made the identical calculation. The imposition of the euro, and the rigid economic policy a single currency implies, is having socially catastrophic effects across much of Europe on a scale that dwarfs Britain’s suffering in the 1990s.

Consider the facts. In Spain, unemployment has already reached a gut-wrenching 19.3%. But unemployment for those between 16-24 is a catastrophic 42%. In Greece, youth unemployment is 25%, in Ireland 28.4% and Italy 26.9%. Marginal eurozone countries such as Greece, Spain and Ireland are not just in recession. They are in depression – and so long as they remain inside the euro there is no exit.

Before their decision to abandon economic sovereignty and sign up to the euro, policymakers had a tried and tested response to the kind of global setback of the last two years – depreciate the currency and loosen fiscal and monetary policy[…] But inside the euro, individual countries are stripped of the ability to manage their own economies. That is why the global recession has been far, far more devastating for some eurozone members than would otherwise have been the case – in just the same way that membership of the ERM inflicted wholly unnecessary damage on the British economy in the early 1990s.

The European single currency amounts to an experiment in social and economic engineering on a scale only very rarely before encountered in world history. The great question is whether it will work. There is a universal belief among the European political and economic elite that the euro will continue, no matter how much damage it inflicts or how many jobs it costs.
[…]
I believe that this heartless analysis is mistaken, and that the eurozone will in due course collapse (as Karl Marx might well have remarked) under the weight of its own contradictions. Economically, the euro can be spotted a mile off: it is a classic bankers’ ramp. It is designed to do all the things that bankers have historically wanted: create efficient markets, drive down the cost of labour, impose price stability, eliminate trade barriers, confound national boundaries and maximise corporate profits. Bankers don’t care much about youth unemployment in Madrid or home repossessions in Lisbon or riots on the streets of Athens. They worry about the bottom line and the euro has been very good for the bottom line, with stock markets up by an obscene 50% over the last eight months.


Should we divorce the euro?
The Sunday Business Post – 10 January 2010
http://www.sbpost.ie/commentandanalysis/should-we-divorce-the-euro-46642.html
David McWilliams

Joining a currency union is the economic equivalent of a marriage. If a country decides to give up its currency and get into bed with another currency, it would seem ludicrous to entertain this move without being sure that the union was suitable. As we all know, there is a difference between fancying someone and making the thing last.

To avoid single currency arrangements going sour, there is also a ‘matchmaker’ in economic theory. The economic matchmaker goes by the typically incomprehensible name of the ‘optimal currency area theory’. This theory is a checklist of economic attributes which need to line up in order for a monetary union to work.

For a currency union to work for a country, the most important thing is that the country trades overwhelmingly with the other members of the monetary union.

This ensures that all the countries in the union move roughly in the same economic cycle. It is also important that the structures of the respective economies are broadly similar, so that one country doesn’t experience a huge boom, while the rest are just motoring along nicely.

Having similar structures in banking and housing, for example, will imply that a country should not suffer a monumental bust, while the others are merely experiencing a normal recession. Equally, it is important that there is significant movement of people within the currency union – like there is in the US between its states – so that, if a country does slump, its citizens can move to find work in another member country.

In general, for a currency union to work, there should also be a single fiscal policy so that, when one area of the currency slumps, the rest of the union’s taxes go some way to ease the problems in the region in difficulty. This is how the currency unions in the US, Canada and Australia work.

Guess what? None of these attributes was in place when Ireland joined the EU economic and monetary union (EMU) and the euro. So it is clear that we didn’t join for economic reasons. So why did we join? It seems that we were too insecure to behave logically and this national insecurity – particularly among our senior mandarins – prevented us from having a debate.
[…]
The reason we should ask these questions is that it is clear the euro has been a disaster for Ireland, and will ensure our slump lasts considerably longer than it has to. When we look at other countries, we see that, of the three entrants into the then EEC in 1973,we are the only ones using the euro. However, we trade less with other eurozone countries than either Denmark or Britain.


The Irish Credit Bubble
University College Dublin Centre for Economic Research Working Papers Series – WP09/32 – December 2009
http://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/wp09.32.pdf
Google Cache (Web Page)
Morgan Kelly

While NAMA is intended to repair, for now, the damage to the asset side of Irish bank balance sheets from developer loans, their liability side appears unsustainable. The aggressive expansion of Irish bank lending was funded mostly in international wholesale markets, where Irish banks were able to borrow at low rates. From being almost entirely funded by domestic deposits in 1997, by 2008 over half of Irish bank lending was funded by wholesale borrowers through bonds and inter-bank borrowing. This well of easy credit has now run dry. In the words of Bank of England Governor Mervyn King: “But the age of innocence—when banks lent to each other unsecured for three months or longer at only a slight premium to expected policy rates—will not quickly, or ever, return.” As foreign lenders have become nervous of Irish banks, their place has increasingly been taken by borrowing from the European Central Bank and short-term borrowing in the inter-bank market. Payments from NAMA will allow Irish banks to reduce their borrowing by a trivial amount.

Without continued government guarantees of their borrowing and, more problematically, continued ECB forbearance, the operations of the Irish banks do not appear viable.
[...]
By pushing itself close to, and quite possibly beyond, the limits of its fiscal capacity, the Irish state has succeeded in rescuing Irish banks from their losses on developer loans. Despite this, these banks remain as zombies entirely reliant on continued Irish government guarantees and ECB forbearance, and committed solely to reducing their own debts.

While bank capital levels are, probably, adequate for the markedly smaller scale of their future lending, we will see below that even fairly modest losses on their mortgage portfolios will be sufficient to wipe out most or all of that capital. Having exhausted its resources in rescuing the Irish banks from the first wave of developer losses, the Irish state can do nothing but watch as the second wave of mortgage defaults sweeps in and drowns them. In other words, it is starting to appear that the Irish banking system is too big to save. As mortgage losses crystallise, the Irish government’s ill conceived project of insulating bank bond-holders from any losses on their investments is sliding beyond the means of its taxpayers.

The mounting losses of its banking system are facing the Irish state with a stark choice. It can attempt a NAMA II for mortgage losses that will end in a bond market strike or a sovereign default. Or it can, probably with the assistance of the IMF and EU, organise a resolution that shares property losses with bank creditors through a partial debt for equity swap. It is easy for governments everywhere to forget that their states are not wholly controlled subsidiaries of their banks but separate entities; and a resolution that transfers bank losses from the Irish taxpayer to bank bond holders will leave Ireland with a low level of debt that, even after several years of deficits, it can easily afford.

⁂ Why Germany is urging “humility” on us, and a Yes vote to Lisbon

Last week the German Ambassador said that a second No vote to Lisbon would have “horrific consequences” for Ireland.

On Tuesday the German Social Democrat spokesman on European affairs said that any economic assistance to Ireland would require “greater humility” from Dublin, a renewed commitment to the EU from Irish voters in a Lisbon Two referendum, and a better appreciation of “the common German and Irish interest” in continuing European integration.

Why this German anxiety over Lisbon?

One obvious reason is that the Lisbon Treaty would hugely advantage Germany, the EU’s largest Member State, by moving EU law-making to a primarily population basis and abolishing the weighted vote system for making EC/EU laws that has existed since the 1957 Rome Treaty.

By basing EU law-making primarily on population size, Lisbon would double Germany’s voting weight on the EU Council of Ministers from its present 8% under the Nice Treaty rules to 17%. France’s vote would go from 8% to 13%, Britain’s and Italy’s from their current 8% to 12% each, while Ireland’s voting weight would be halved from 2% to 0.8% (Art.16 TEU).

Under the present Nice Treaty arrangements Germany, France, Britain and Italy have 29 votes each in making EU laws and Ireland has 7 votes. An EU law requires 255 votes out of 345 and at least half the Member States have to vote in favour to make up those 255 votes. A “blocking minority” is 91 votes: that is, 345 minus 255 plus 1.

By contrast, under Lisbon a new European law would require the support of 55% of the Member States, i.e.15 out of 27, so long as the 15 make up 65% of the aggregate EU population. Germany has four times Ireland’s voting weight now: 29 votes as against 7. By basing votes on population size Lisbon would thereby give Germany 20 times Ireland’s voting weight, with its 82 million people as against Ireland’s 4.3.

France, Britain and Italy would each have some 15 times Ireland’s voting weight on a population basis, compared to their four times now.

Germany and France between them have nearly one-third of the EU’s total population. Under the proposed Lisbon Treaty rules Germany and France would need only two other countries to vote with them to be able to block any EU law they did not like.

Giving Germany and the other Big States more of a say in EU law-making is what German Ambassador Christian Pauls really means when he says Lisbon would make the EU more “efficient”!

If Lisbon goes through and gives Germany and the other Big States such an increase in their power, how long – realistically speaking – do people think Ireland’s 12.5% corporation tax rate would last, as compared to Germany’s 30%?

How long would it be before the EU imposes its own income tax, sales tax or property tax on us – which would be permitted for the first time under Lisbon’s Article 311 TFEU and which Germany and France are likely to push for once the Council of Ministers would obtain the legal power ?

In the European Parliament when Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, Germany had 36 seats as against 10 for Ireland – 3.6 times as much. Under Lisbon, Germany would have 96 MEPs as against 12 for Ireland – 8 times as much.

The political reality is that there is now a race on in time between the ratification of Lisbon, which would greatly increase the powers of Germany, France and the Brussels Commission in the EU, and the advent to office of a Conservative Government in Britain by spring next year at the latest.

Conservative policy is to hold a referendum on Lisbon in the UK and recommend a No vote to it to the British people – so long as we Irish are not bullied and bamboozled into reversing our No vote before then, thereby bringing Lisbon into force for all 27 EU States before Mr Gordon Brown’s Government loses office.

By standing by last year’s No to Lisbon, we would thereby be opening the way to enabling our fellow countrymen and women in Northern Ireland to have a vote also on this important Treaty.

- Anthony Coughlan, Director

Daily Telegraph: Will Germany deliver on the Faustian bargain that created monetary union?

DAILY TELEGRAPH
Monday 23.2.08

If Der Spiegel is correct, the German finance ministry is drafting rescue plans to prevent default on the edges of the eurozone leading to a full-blown collapse of Europe’s monetary system.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

This is an entirely appropriate policy in economic terms. One dreads to think what would happen if the world’s twin reserve currency were to disintegrate at this stage.

But what about the solemn pledge to voters by Germany’s political elites – promiscuously given over the years – that monetary union would never leave them on the hook for the debts of half Europe?

The vast imbalances that have been allowed to build up under the seductive protection of EMU leave German taxpayers facing bail-out liabilities that exceed the cost of reparations after the First World War in proportional terms.

The political ground has not been prepared for this. EMU was foisted on the German people without a referendum, in the face of deep public scepticism and scathing criticisms by the professoriat. This failure to secure a mandate for such a revolutionary undertaking is coming back to haunt them.

Berlin is at last having to deliver on the Faustian bargain made by Germany’s political class when it swapped the D-Mark for French acquiescence in reunification. It must either go the whole way towards EMU fiscal union and take responsibility for Italy’s public debt (111pc of GDP by next year), Austria’s loans to Eastern Europe (70pc of GDP), the adventures of Ireland’s ‘Canary Dwarf’ (€400bn or so in liabilities), and Spain’s housing collapse (1m unsold homes), or jeopardize its half-century investment in the political order of post-war Europe. Letting EMU fail at this stage would have far higher costs than never having launched the project in the first place.

The alleged bail-out options include “bilateral bonds” where big brother countries agree to shoulder the credit risk for siblings, (who vouches for Italy and Spain?), or some form of EU bond.

[...]

For now, the bail-out talk has cowed speculators. The euro has rallied after weeks of sharp descent against the dollar. Credit default swaps (CDS) on Irish debt have fallen back below the red alert level of 400 basis points. But it has not been lost on the markets that Germany’s own CDS spreads have risen to a record 86. Are traders starting to ask whether Berlin is in a fit state to rescue anybody?

The German economy contracted at an 8.4pc annual rate in the fourth quarter as exports to Eastern Europe, Club Med, and the Anglo-sphere collapsed.

[...]

Last week chief economist Jurgen Stark attempted to head off the bail-out plans, reminding Berlin last week that rescues are prohibited by EU law. This is not strictly true – Article 100.2 allows aid in “exceptional circumstances” – but it gives powerful cover to anybody wishing to oppose the Steinbruck policy.

But whatever the legal theory, the political reality is that 700,000 Germans are going to lose their jobs this year as unemployment rises to 4.3m (IFO Institute). Voters are not going to look kindly on any party seen to divert German savings to Ireland or Club Med.

Architects of EMU were well aware that a one-size-fits-all monetary policy for vastly disparate nations would create serious tensions over time. They gambled that this would work to their advantage. The EU would be forced to create new machinery to safeguard its investment in the euro. It would be a “beneficial crisis”, bringing about the great leap forward to full union.

We are about to find out if they were right.

⁂ European Central Bank capitulating in face of crisis

Two similar articles from newspapers on the political Right and Left forwarded for your information by Anthony Coughlan:

TELEGRAPH
Tuesday 24.2.09

ECB faces mutiny from national bank governors as recession deepens
– The European Central Bank is capitulating.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

For months the ECB held sternly to the high ground of orthodoxy as the US, Japanese, British, Canadian, Swiss and Swedish central banks slashed rates towards zero and embraced quantitative easing, but a confluence of fast-moving events is now forcing it to move.

The credit default swaps that measure bankruptcy risk on the debts of Ireland, Austria and a clutch of Latin Bloc states have vaulted to dangerous levels. In the case of Ireland, the slump is spilling on to the streets. Some 120,000 marched through Dublin over the weekend to protest austerity measures.

The slow fuse on Eastern Europe’s banking crisis has detonated, leaving Austrian, Belgian, Italian and other West European banks with $1.5 trillion (£1 trillion) in exposure.

It is happening just as industrial output collapses in the eurozone’s core states. Germany’s economy contracted at 8.4pc annualised in the fourth quarter. ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet said on Monday that “a process of negative feedback” has set in where the banks and the real economy are pulling each other down in a self-reinforcing spiral. Eurozone credit is contracting. Banks are rationing credit as deleveraging gathers pace.

Rob Carnell, global strategist at ING, said the ECB has been painfully slow to acknowledge the global deflation tsunami sweeping across Europe.

“It seems divorced from reality. It is clearly nonsense to talk about inflation now: it has been negative on average for six months. The eurozone purchasing managers’ index has fallen twice as fast as in the US, so the ECB should be acting even faster than the Fed,” he said.

Mr Trichet said the ECB has increased its balance sheet by ¤600bn (£525bn) since the Lehman collapse in September. The bank is providing “unlimited liquidity” in exchange for a wide range of collateral, including mortgage bonds issued for the sole purpose of extracting ECB funds.

But the ECB’s leading voices have adamantly refused to contemplate going to the next stage: buying bonds and other assets with “printed money”. They see that as the Primrose path to hell. This week the tone has abruptly changed, suggesting that a majority of the 16 national bank governors on the ECB council are having second thoughts.

The apparent ring-leader is Cypriot member Anastasios Orphanides, a former Fed official and a world authority on deflation traps. He said on Monday that the ECB may have to go beyond “zero-bound” rates and revealed that an “internal discussion” was under way.

Italy’s Mario Draghi is in the “activist-easing” camp. “The experience in the US in the 1930s and Japan in the 1990s suggests that it is necessary to fight, in the early phases of the crisis, the tendency for real interest rates to rise,” he said.

Finland’s Erkki Liikanen is of the same opinion. “We are facing the worst financial crisis in our time. It is important not to exclude, ex ante, any measures.”

Julian Callow from Barclays Capital said 10 ECB governors are now doves.

This amounts to a mutiny against the Bundesbank-dominated executive in Frankurt. It is no great surprise. They have to answer to their democracies. The plot is thickening.


The Euro, an Illusory Shield against the Crisis ?

L’Humanite, Paris , Thursday 19 February 2009,

by Isabelle Metral (Translated)

Most political leaders of euro-zone countries make it sound as though the single currency has shown its capacity to play a protective role as the financial crisis sweeps across the Old Continent. So much so that today, even the staunchest of the Euro-sceptics (the British, Icelanders, Swedes, or Danes) are supposed to have suddenly realized the advantages of joining the euro…

The claim was made by Joaquin Almunia, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, on Tuesday last.

The EU leader’s statement actually betrays a growing concern in the face of signals showing increasing divergences between the different regions or countries of the euro zone. These divergences might eventually lead some countries to consider opting out of the single currency.

The crisis shows up the very serious defects in the original conception of the euro.

Entirely obsessed as they were with the stability criteria put forward by financial markets, those that championed its creation in 1999 were aiming first at a “strong euro” in the hope of luring as much capital as possible to the European market.

Hence the curb on public spending (with the Maastricht treaty), the pressure on wages through the deregulation of labour markets that diminished labour’s negotiating power. “The euro has brought war over exchange rates to an end, but it has exacerbated competition over prices,” rightly claimed Jean-Paul Fitoussi, president of the Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques

Today, the deepening crisis and the effect of the competition between states that sink deeper and deeper into debt have the additional effect – a refinement on the earlier stages – of bringing the pressure of competition to bear on the States’ capacity to meet their debts (in treasury bonds).

Indeed, if euro zone countries are united by the single currency and the European Central Bank, the rates at which they get loans, and the conditions attached to them, vary from one country to the next. Before the crisis, the spreads remained quite limited. But with the plunge into recession, and the gigantic assistance granted by the various states through bank bail-outs or economic stimulus plans, this is no longer true.

Spain and Ireland, for instance, which until a short time ago, were still praised as models of economic success by pro-marketers in Brussels and elsewhere, are now going through a period of fierce turbulence. As a result, they are at a disadvantage on financial markets and find it difficult to raise money.

Sovereign loans in the euro- one consequently tend to be widely spread. The risk premiums demanded from the frailest countries are soaring, unlike those demanded of Germany, which is still considered an exemplary borrower. The benchmark rate for German (Bund) loans over 10 years last Monday stood at 2.98%, much lower than that of France (3.50%), or of Spain (4.13%) or, above all, of Greece (5.47%).

The over-rated credit rating agencies were not slow in down-grading Madrid and Athens. Downgrading a state amounts to casting suspicion on its ability to pay back its debts as settled, in the best conditions.

In such circumstances, some countries that are strangled by the service of an increasingly heavy debt might be tempted simply to leave the euro ship. To ease the stranglehold, they might try devaluing their restored national currency as a last resource, in order to boost their exports.

This prospect has made the fortune of the managers of the Intrade site where, for the last few months, it has been possible to bet on one or several of the sixteen euro-zone countries opting out of the euro. The contract expires at the end of 2010.

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The weakness of Euro membership for Ireland

(1.)
http://newsweaver.ie/bloxhamresearch/e_article001314795.cfm?x=bf0GvBb,bcgrvNVl
Bloxham Morning Note
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Company/Economic News
Strategy – Lex pointing out Ireland’s weakness

The weakness of Euro membership for Ireland is highlighted into today’s Lex column. With the UK doing what is needed to adjust to the new economic reality and devaluing its currency, Ireland is unable to devalue its currency to restore competitiveness. Therefore Lex points out that wages in Ireland will need to fall, something which is exceptionally difficult to achieve. While the Euro zone has provided us with the buffer of a central banking guarantee, the downside pain is in a loss of competitiveness against our nearest neighbour, the UK.

Published by Bloxham
Copyright © 2008 Bloxham. All rights reserved.


(2.)
specials.ft.com/cgi-bin/Common/FTToday/nph-todayEdition.cgi?latest=BACK1_LON
The Financial Times
THE LEX COLUMN
Wednesday January 14 2009
Eurozones of pain

The Irish must be feeling green, and so too the Spanish, Greeks and Portuguese. Over the past week, all four countries’ debt ratings have been placed on review for downgrade.
Dublin, Madrid, Athens and Lisbon may bat away such warnings with reassuring noises about how they will put their financial houses in order – even if they, meanwhile, suffer higher borrowing costs. What they cannot dismiss so easily, however, is the solution to their troubles: deflation.
The potential downgrades are only a manifestation of a deeper problem: a loss of competitiveness. That is largely why the Irish, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese trade deficits are so large and their economies slowing so fast. It has been a long decline. Euro membership lowered borrowing costs, but unleashed a credit boom and a rise in prices – most obviously in housing but also in wages.
Ireland shows the problem writ large. Since 2000, its relative wage costs have risen by 20 percentage points versus Germany. (Greek wage costs have risen by about 5 points.) Export performance has been further hurt by the weakening currencies of two of its major trading partners, the
US and the UK. That is why Brian Lenihan, the Irish finance minister, lashed out at the UK, saying the pound’s fall had caused Ireland “immense problems”. The quick solution would be for Ireland to devalue too. As a euro member, it cannot. Instead it has to deflate.
Germany managed this at the start of the millennium. But as its trading partners were inflating at the time, German prices only had to rise at a slower rate for relative wages to fall. Today, with inflation falling everywhere, that path is not open to uncompetitive eurozone countries.
Instead, wages have to fall in absolute terms. That is immensely painful. It is also politically unpalatable; democracies generally don’t “do” wage deflation. Even East Asian countries, with their more flexible labour markets, did not manage it during the 1997 crisis – or at least not without political change.
The Irish referendum this autumn on the European Constitution may well be an explosive vote.

Lisbon Treaty: mandatory tax harmonisation for Ireland

The Lisbon Treaty amendment on EU harmonized taxes which has not been publicly mentioned so far in Ireland’s referendum debate

Article 2.79 of the Lisbon Treaty would insert a six-word amendment -“and to avoid distorton of competition” – into the Article of the existing European Treaties dealing with harmonising indirect taxes – Article 113. The full amended Article would then read as follows:

Article 113
“The Council shall, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after consulting the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, adopt provisions for the harmonisation of legislation concerning turnover taxes, excise duties and other forms of indirect taxation to the extent that such harmonisation is necessary to ensure the establishment and the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition.”
(The Lisbon Treaty amendment is underlined) . . .Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

The significance of this short but important amendment is that it would enable the European Court of Justice, which adjudicates on competition matters, to decide that Ireland’s 12.5% rate of company tax, or Estonia’s zero rate, as against Britain’s 28% rate and Germany’s 30% is a distortion of competition which breaches the Treaty Articles dealing with the internal market – Art. 26 and Arts.101-9 TFEU – in relation to which qualified majority voting on the Council of Ministers applies.

The Irish Government’s veto under Article 113 would be irrelevant if those Articles on the Internal Market are invoked as the legal basis for proposing changes in EU tax laws. All the assurances regarding unanimity underArticle 113 would then count for nothing.

Once this amendment to Article 113 is inserted, the European Commission, whose job it is to police the internal market, need only point out that the big cross-national disparities in corporation tax rates and Ireland’s reluctance to accept a Common Consolidated Tax base which would tax company profits on the basis of their sales in different EU countries, at the tax rates prevailing in those countries, constitute a prima facie “distortion of competition” under Articles 101-109.
If Ireland refused to cooperate with what the Commission wanted, the Commission could bring it before the Court of Justice – or another country or firm could institute proceedings against it – and the Court could declare the Irish Government’s tax policy to be unlawful as in breach of the EU’s Internal Market provisions.

Unanimity under Article 113 would certainly be required to introduce any joint rates of company tax, but this Lisbon Treaty amendment would give the EU Commission and Court of Justice ample extra powers to erode Ireland’s low rate of corporation profits tax, whether we liked it or not.

If an Irish-based company had 10% of its sales or turnover in Ireland and 90% in, say, Britain, its profits from its Irish sales could be taxed at 12.5% and from its British sales at 28%, under the scheme the Commission has been mooting. We might even be allowed to keep our 12.5% company tax indefinitely, but its practical benefit would be hugely eroded by proposals such as this, which this six-word Lisbon Treaty amendment is designed to facilitate.

There is no other possible reason for inserting this hitherto virtually unnoticed six-word amendment by means of the Lisbon Treaty.

Ireland’s 12.5% company tax rate, not to mind Estonia’s zero rate, just stand out as being clearly “distortions of competition” on the EU’s Internal Market.
Commission President J.M. Barroso should be asked what is the significance of this six-word Lisbon Treaty amendment to Article 113 on harmonised taxes during his two-day visit to Ireland.

By refusing to ratify the Lisbon Treaty and agree to this important amendment we refuse to hand over to the EU Commission and Court of Justice these new mechanisms to undermine the principal incentive attracting foreign companies to Ireland and keeping many of them in th country. It should be noted of course that Ireland’s low corporation tax rate benefits Iindigenous companies also, and not just foreign multinationals here.

By rejecting Lisbon and insisting on a Protocol in any new Treaty which would protect the principle of tax-competition between the countrries, we make a stand for economic freedom and reject the attempt to impose an economic straitjacket on the EU Member States in the interests of Germany, France and Britain, with their high company tax rates.

Note, incidentally, that harmonizing laws on indirect taxes in the EU is mandatory under Article 113 set out above: “The Council SHALL…”
Anthony Coughlan
Secretary
Lean

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