The current banking crisis is an unintentional victim of a much deeper problem, that of the sovereign debt crisis. This debt crisis, and consequently that of the banks, is what must take priority over other issues.
These days, no-one seems to give a genuine thought to how we could solve the financial and banking crisis that is shaking up the old continent. Politicians seem to be taking their time, waiting for decisions to be made, neglecting to take into account that economic cycles often move much faster than political ones.
Still, the resolution of the sovereign debt crisis needs to, and can only be, tackled by the work of politicians and legislators. Governments of Eurozone countries need to step in once and for all, without further delay, to stem the financial haemorrhage and make it possible to rebuild a Eurozone which is capable of rising to the challenges of a world in which there has been a fundamental shift in the centres of power, in particular in a number of industrialised countries.
The economic, financial, banking and institutional situation that we are facing in Europe and across the rest of the world is unprecedented: the economic pillars that have governed the movements of the planet since World War II now find themselves in a situation where they need to reassess the fundamentals of their operations.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF WESTERN ECONOMIES ON THE EVE OF GREECE’S POTENTIAL BANKRUPTCY ?
Even if it manages to avoid recession, the US economy will, at the very least, need to face the weak growth forecast for 2012 which stands at just over 2.5%. The United States must solve its taxation and debt issues. However President Obama’s recent proposal to impose heavier taxes on the wealthy in the future may help.
In Europe, the effect of purchasing significant portions of the Spanish and Italian debt by the Central Bank is limited. ‘Eurobonds’, which are still under discussion, will have to be issued and used to overcome the financial limitations of the European Financial Stabilisation Fund.
Moreover, if the Greek debt were to be neutralised, it is highly likely that some lending countries such as China and Russia would increase their rates ‘sine die’ in the face of further potential European failures.
Therefore we need to accept the following fact: the financial health of Eurozone member countries is poor. There are also vast budget differences, for example if we look at Italy and France; the Italian budget excluding debt-servicing costs has a surplus, which is the opposite of the case in France. That leads us to question the present status of the UK’s financial health when it has yet to solve the issues linked to its toxic investments.
In the end, what is hanging over Europe as it wades through this crisis is the crack in the Eurozone, which could have major political and geopolitical consequences that would be likely to endanger European cohesion as we know it.
This is a bit like a domino effect; the decision not to bail out Greece may negatively affect other Eurozone countries which would be left with no other solution than requesting the powerful intervention of the Central European Bank. The consequence of this might well be to see Germany exit the Eurozone, as a result of Angela Merckel being weakened by successive electoral defeats.
WHAT IS IN STORE FOR THE EUROPEAN BLOC?
It is also clear that if Europe does survive this major financial crisis, new accessions to the European Union will stop for as long as it takes European leaders to overcome their internal problems.
This sovereign debt crisis represents the biggest challenge this continent has faced since the fall of Yugoslavia in the 90’s.
At this point, anything could happen and countries may even consider leaving the Eurozone. Although the case of Greece is being dealt with, other countries whose economies may have committed the same mistakes are in the spotlight. .
Likewise the overhaul of the “snake in the tunnel” is going to be an issue in light of the shift in the balance of powers experienced across the continent. This topic is also at the core of G20/G8/IMF and ECB debates, all of whom are expecting the emergence of new economic powers such as Brazil, Turkey, China and some countries in Africa and Asia.
The very unity of Europe, is now being undermined and ultimately the Europe’s deteriorating power in the international arena is a cause of great concern .
EUROPEAN COHESION IN DANGER
As noted in the introduction, the list of European countries at risk of bankruptcy is impressive. Enough so to worry the founders of the union with fingers being pointed at Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain in particular. But as previously noted both France and the United Kingdom could also be under threat.
In the past Europe has always managed to get through crises that have threatened its cohesion, either independently or with the assistance of third parties such as the United States, who have been very active in recent conflicts as well as throughout history. The Yugoslavian crisis was the first test of cohesion. The diplomatic agreements, which resulted in the division of the country into three parts, were only reached after a violent conflict that lasted more than three years.
Later, the 1999 Kosovo war was settled largely by NATO and the intervention of the US.
The Iraq conflict revealed fundamental divisions between the 1992 Common Market countries and new Eastern European member countries.
More recently in March, the Libyan conflict revealed the same cohesion issues with the alliance unable to find a common ground to jointly and simultaneously engage hostilities against Libya.
In the face of the banking and financial crisis that now faces Europe, there are many institutions who fail to see how a unitary agreement might be reached regarding these monetary and fiscal matters.
At present the very foundations of the Eurozone are being threatened and consequently the cohesion of the Union. The viability of the European Union could well depend on the stabilisation of the banking and financial sector.
TOWARDS EUROPEAN FEDERALISM?
The European Union is made up of States that are extremely different from one another, whether in terms of their economic power, infrastructure or political system. This is compounded by fundamental differences between the northern and southern European states.
In recent years, we have been able to observe an interesting example of the role of the regions in terms of a fluid European operation, which made up for the lack there of between the states. Being closer to the citizens and their everyday problems, the regions have, in terms of energy for instance, shown themselves to be excellent intermediaries of European policies even pushing states to be more proactive. It is worth highlighting that nowadays, regions do not hesitate to work with various economic and social sectors of their own nation, such as businesses for instance. Given that solutions can only occur as the result of a joint effort, this constitutes a step forward worth emphasising and acknowledging. A recent and successful example of this kind of initiative is the energy partnership which was established between the Assembly of European Regions and GE Energy in Europe (www.refer.eu.com).
So naturally, the question that underlies the issue of the EU’s Unity and operation is that of the status of European federalism. It begs the question of how far Europe should go to develop rules which would be uniformly adaptable to the different European states. Indeed fiscal federalism appears to be the only path that would allow Europe to emerge from the depths of this crisis.
There are numerous examples whereby wealthier states have come to the rescue of economically weaker counterparts by making contributions. This is especially true of the United States, India and China, where these systems operate in a relatively satisfactory manner.
However, achieving this level of fiscal federalism would require willingness and European political cohesion, which appears quite unlikely judging by the extremist votes that have cropped up in Europe (in the Netherlands and Finland) as of late. A socio-democratic jolt would probably help Europe curb these extremist trends which can only harm the Nations, as we have already seen many times throughout the history of the continent.
Still, given the urgency, it wouldn’t be outlandish to think that among the reforms needed in the near future, the power of the European government needs to be strengthened to better support and safeguard Europe’s cohesion policy.
GERMANY, A MAJOR EUROPEAN POWER-BUT WHAT DOES ITS FUTURE HOLD?
Germany’s stance throughout the handling of the Greek crisis is really quite interesting.
Conscious of its position as an economic and financial superpower in Europe, Germany is bound to have wanted to negotiate global recognition, in exchange for its intervention in support of Greece for instance, that would entail its positioning as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. These hopes might be in vain if it fails to take into account the pressures of the German public who does not support this economic and financial assistance and is making its stance known in the polls.
The Christian Democratic Party of the German Chancellor was heckled recently, even in its traditional strongholds. . Is this a sign of the times? The German Green Party has emerged as major benefactor of the CDU’s loss of support.
Lastly, Germany needs to act as a role model in terms of management and should it continue to stand alone against the rest of Europe could come to be seen as practicing an isolationist policy which would no longer fit in with that of the Union’s treaty.
More recently, some agreements between Berlin and Moscow were greeted with surprise and continue to stun Europeans.
It is difficult to find a balance and many envision that Germany might develop a super-currency financed by its own people. This would be a far cry from the European dream…
COULD OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES BE FACING BANKRUPTCY?
As mentioned before, if a crisis like the one hitting Greece were to reach Italy or Spain, there could be dire consequences for the Euro zone.
To gain a better understanding of what might trigger such a domino effect, one simply needs to consider the fact that Greece only accounts for 2.5 of the GDP in the Eurozone. Despite this figure, the shockwave across Europe has been immense and its ripples are being felt, not just in Europe but also across the world.
Therefore, if we consider the cumulative amount of the Spanish and Italian, which are much greater than the Greek debt, the equation becomes practically unmanageable.
THE FUTURE OF THE EURO ZONE
After decades of negotiations, in 1999, the Eurozone became the most important European creation in the history of the Union.
By simply understanding this, it is easy to see that Europeans must do everything in their power to protect this pillar of European integration as destroying this would bring down the whole of Europe.
Indeed, what is at stake here is the entire future of the European project.
Europe was originally created with the noble ambitions of ensuring there would be no future world wars and to allow the creation of a bloc to the threat that the USSR then constituted. Since the latter threatno longer exists, the very purpose of the European Union could shift and give way to the pursuit of a unified market both large and competitive enough to be in a position to contend with those of India and China, among others.
The ability of the European project to adjust as it emerges from the new banking and financial crisis it is up against will determine the survival of the Union.
THE FUTURE OF EUROPEAN INFLUENCE
The other problem in the background is the risk of seeing Europe lose some of its power and influence to countries like China or Russia
Europe would then be left with very little room for manoeuvre on matters such as international trade, exchange rates, environmental issues, resources, energy dependence and human rights (to list but a few).
If weakened, Europe for instance would no longer have enough weight to influence the management of the Iranian nuclear crisis, which would jeopardize the entire geopolitical balance across the continent and the Middle East. In turn this could weaken world balance.
Indeed there would be no particular reason for Iran, Russia, or China to comply with the wishes of Brussels or other European capitals on this issue, or others for that matter.
Moreover, Russia might well benefit from the Euro crisis and regain its influence on Eastern European countries which it continues to regard as ‘satellites’. In turn, projects such as the US missile shield and the distribution of gas could face serious threats.
As highlighted previously this same energy issue is currently a much-discussed topic between Berlin and Moscow and one that appears to be leading to new links being forged..
One could also easily imagine future purchases of arms from China and Russia which would be ‘facilitated’ despite the opinion of former Soviet bloc countries, starting with Poland, might have on the matter.
As regards China, Beijing is increasingly willing to increase its sphere of influence by providing economic assistance to heavily indebted countries, as seen recently in the case of Italy, without necessarily lending much importance to the mechanisms for this established by European institutions in this area. As noted above, this strategy could reveal itself to be a genuine trap if China, in response to a Greek bankruptcy and the abandonment of European aids, were to raise its interest rates to levels beyond those that Rome could sustain.
THE RISE OF EXTREMISM IN EUROPE
This crisis is a complex and deep-rooted one and none of the usual strategies and approaches in this area seem to be working.
As previously noted as the crisis progresses, there is a high risk that political extremism will gain ground in the countries most affected by the debt and banking crisis. .
This phenomenon is one worth taking into account, as it comes coupled with sectarian and racist violence which must be nipped in the bud at all costs.
On a positive note however the regimes of the countries most affected by the crisis remain strong to date and these countries continue to operate relatively well.
The question worth raising here is whether or not this could be the case for all countries affected by the tremendous debt crisis. However examples such as South Korea provide some degree of reassurance on the matter.
COULD INSTABILITY SPREAD TO THE BALKANS AND THE TURKISH AREA?
Throughout history, the Balkans have often been Europe’s geopolitical barometer.
And so within the frame of the Greek crisis, unfortunately we must admit that all Balkan regions may indeed end up destabilised.
A Greece weakened by the debt crisis would open the door to the development of a kind of parallel market from the Balkans, further adding to economic, social, financial and physical insecurity.
As regards Greek-Turkish relations, the consequences could once again prove extremely severe:
One potential consequences of the crisis could be that Greece would see itself obliged to limit its military spending. Turkey could receive this as good news, enabling more relaxed relations between the two countries, unless the Turkish Prime Minister took advantage of this state of affairs and took on a more interventionist stance in this very sensitive matter.
Greece could well respond forcefully, not wishing to see military matters meet the same humiliating fate as its economy.
A further consequence of the European crisis could well be its impact on regional structures in the world. The Asia-Pacific region, which follows the example of the structure of the European Union, could decide to simply give up on its regional union projects as a result of Europe’s lack of constructive response to Greece.
CONCLUSION: A WEAKENED EUROPE
The debt and banking crisis has profoundly weakened the European Union and the countries that constitute it
Even if the Eurozone were to pull through now, the contradictions that have surfaced, notably in its cohesion and tax programmes, will need to be settled very quickly for the European project to continue.
Should this situation persist, it is highly likely to force Europe to withdraw into itself to address its internal problems. This would result in a major loss of influence on the international scene, especially in light of the fact that in the face of its contradictions, Europe would also have to manage the rise of extremism in a number of countries of the Union.
All of this of course favours countries experiencing double figure or close growth In other words, a redistribution of power maps between the East, West, North and South, which has already begun, and will be taken into account regardless of what may happen.
Europe is going to need a real programme, a lot of courage and some true leaders to survive. It will require the talents of those truly capable of breathing new life into Europe and of managing a European “New Deal”, a genuine Marshall Plan for the future.
Recently, one man, the ex-President of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn suggested erasing the debts of these countries and managing them on a European level – true European leadership, a real Federal Nation, respectful of virtuous growth and the individuals involved.
A European ‘New Deal’?
What if this was the answer to the crisis, the European Dream and the future?