Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 18 aprile 2012 alle ore 05:58.
L'ultima modifica è del 18 aprile 2012 alle ore 03:54.
Who would’ve guessed that the European policy wanted by Angela Merkel would have been so harshly criticized by “the Left” and that these attacks would have come from people like George Soros and the best contributors to the Economist and the Financial Times?
The apparent paradox is the most concrete proof that up until now Brussels has given weak, inadequate answers, given the gravity of the European crisis. Now, with the anesthetic effect of the extraordinary and generous operations called for by the ECB wearing off, the nightmare of a depressive spiral caused by the attempts to aid the recovery resurfaces. Too many underlying problems—from economic growth that continues to be a mirage to the weakness of some countries’ banking system—still remain without solution. Today, sights are set on the Spanish banks, the ones that at the beginning of the crisis seemed to be the strongest. But we know that in banking it takes almost nothing to go from rags to riches.
As a matter of fact, Spanish banks have all the flaws of an economy that until recently seemed to be one of the best in Europe but has now fallen back into stagnation and has an unemployment rate above 50 percent among youths. The economic boom was fragile, mainly because it relied on a construction bubble financed by banks, whose loans to the industry totaled 35 percent of GDP. The process of absorbing excess debt is, as always, long and tortuous, and the banks have to endure the consequences. The thrift system has been saved through a bailout and the seven biggest public banks have lost more than 40 percent of their value in a single year.
The condition of the Spanish banking system is tragically summarized in the words of the governor of the Bank of Spain, who says he feels like a captain who has just issued an order to abandon ship and at the same time finds out that all the lifeboats must be fixed. Even Schettino was in a better situation.
In fact, facing credit risks, the central bank and the government have required banks to increase their reserves by 50 billion euros, but many analysts think that another 45 billion euros might be needed to reduce the ratio between reserves and high risk loans to 50 percent, which is still a long way from what is deemed a secure level. It’s the usual problem: in a system that twists itself in a spiral of depression and debt reduction, the banks’ level of reserves and of capital never seems adequate. In other words, with an unstable banking system, the hope of the new Spanish government and of the majority of European observers—that the financial crisis might be absorbed by the combined effect of more rigid fiscal measures and liberalizations—seems illusory. Irving Fisher said it clearly in the ’80s: we had all the time in the world to study it.
It is for this reason that the cries for a courageous and European solution to the crisis have become more insistent: some ask for the European fund to help the Spanish banks; others ask for broader development loans; Soros proposes to monetize the seigniorage of the central banks of the euro zone (which is estimated at 20 trillion euros). Whatever the case, there’s no lack of daring proposals, but European answers continue to be dominated by the obsession with not making it seem as if the Germans are paying for the endangered countries.
At the end of March, the Euro Group approved an expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) but chose the smallest of the three solutions proposed by the commission. In particular, it excluded the possibility of other extraordinary measures after July 2013 and set rigid limits to those measures approved in the preceding 12 months. In other words, it just barely improved the status quo. Regardless of the overwhelming optimism that is expressed in official documents, the EFSF continues to be doubly insufficient. It is insufficient in quantity but also in its ability to function as a true firewall, a mechanism capable of keeping the contagion away from the crisis. According to a large number of analysts, the risk is that at next week’s meeting, the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. and the U.K. may vote against expanding the resources assigned to the European cause. The consequences the would result from such a decision are easily foreseeable.
Mario Draghi has recently warned that the central bank may buy politics extra time, as it has done with its extraordinary measures, but that it can’t resolve the euro zone’s structural problems. From a strictly quantitative viewpoint, the ECB has every right to think that it has done much more than what was thought possible only a couple of years ago. The fact is its budget is now almost 30 percent of the euro zone’s GDP, a level close to the U.S.’s GDP and higher than that of Japan and the U.K.
At this point, Berlin’s certainties regarding the crisis should begin to sway—if not for other reasons, then because the critiques come from so many different parts and prove that markets and critics of austerity have found a common ground. The iron chancellor should feel the sense of estrangement that Alberto Sordi felt in Everybody Go Home when, on September 8, he is attacked by a German tank and yells, “The Germans have become allies of the Americans!”
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