Last weekend, Eurozone policymakers were shaken into admitting that something more needs to be done to save the Eurozone and avoid a major crisis that would reverberate around the world. This column proposes a three-step solution to finally end the crisis.
The annual gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors at the IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington seems to have been an epiphany for Eurozone leaders. Finally, there seems to be agreement that their July 2011 agreement was insufficient (Reuters 2011).
In a previous Vox column, I sketched a way of stopping the public debt crisis that is engulfing the Eurozone (Wyplosz 2011). Here I develop this idea into a coherent proposal that, if adopted, would immediately stop the rot.
The European Central Bank was once known for its focus on price stability. Since the global economic crisis, however, its role has extended to saving banks and sovereign countries. This column argues that such a move has badly harmed the institution’s legitimacy – something that will damage both its policy effectiveness and confidence in the governing bodies of the EU as a whole.
The ECB’s role has evolved in its decade-long existence. In this note I describe how the choices of the ECB have damaged the institution’s legitimacy. This matters because decreased legitimacy lowers the ECB’s future policy effectiveness and weakens the legitimacy of all other institutions of governance in the EU, including the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament.
In evaluating the ECB’s performance, I split the last eight years into two parts:
Why a slowdown in Germany could be good for Europe
Francesco Giavazzi, Alberto Alesina01 September 2011
One major problem with the Eurozone as a currency area is that its economies are not in sync. With growth in Germany now slowing, this column argues that this could be the blessing the ECB has been praying for.
The European Central Bank as a lender of last resort
Paul De Grauwe18 August 2011
With the Eurozone crisis casting doubt over the solvency of Spain and Italy, the ECB has once again intervened to provide liquidity in the government bond markets. This column asks the question: Is there such a role for the ECB as a lender of last resort?
In October 2008 the ECB discovered that there is more to central banking than price stability. This discovery occurred when it was forced to massively increase liquidity to save the banking system. The ECB did not hesitate to serve as lender of last resort to the banking system, despite fears of moral hazard, inflation, and the fiscal implications of its lending.
Investors are anticipating the unravelling of the 21 July 2011 “solution” and a breakdown of the interbank-market that would throw the economy into an “immediate recession” like the one experienced after the Lehman bankruptcy. This column argues that this will happen without quick and bold action. The EFSF can’t work as designed but if it were registered as a bank – which would give it access to unlimited ECB re-financing – governments could stop the generalised breakdown of confidence while leaving the management of public debt in the hand of the finance ministers.
Canaries were kept in coal mines because they die faster than humans when exposed to dangerous gases. When the birds stopped singing, wise miners knew that it was time to gear up the emergency procedures.
Greece, as it turns out, was the Eurozone’s canary. The canary was resuscitated and a small rescue mechanism was set up to revive a further canary or two – but beyond this the warning was ignored. The miners kept on working. They convinced themselves that this was the canary’s problem.
UPDATED: EZ leaders are working on a plan to save the euro. This column updates the column posted on 22 August 2011 by evaluating the steps EZ leaders took this weekend. Things don’t look good. By rejecting any major role for the ECB, leaders have guaranteed that any package will be too little too late. After all, imagine what the US crisis package in 2008 would have looked like if the Fed had refused to use its massive firepower to stabilise markets.
A balance sheet view on TARGET – and why restrictions on TARGET would have hit Germany first
Clemens Jobst19 July 2011
The debate over TARGET balances and whether there is an ongoing stealth bailout in the Eurozone has attracted attention from top economists and journalists in the past month. This column argues that the reason why the arguments keep dragging on is the lack of a clear framework for the discussion, something this column aims to provide.
By now most readers of European financial newspapers and blogs will have come across Hans-Werner Sinn’s repeated assertions (see Sinn 2011a and 2011b on this site and his latest here) about Germany’s “stealth bailout” of European peripheral economies and the “ticking time bomb” hidden in the €300 billion claims of the Bundesbank in the Eurozone payment system
Did the ECB respond quickly enough when the global economy melted down in 2008? The authors of CEPR DP8472 argue that the ECB's forward-looking conduct of monetary policy prior to the crisis, with an eye constantly on the zero lower bound, allowed it to react with rapid and deep interest rate cuts after the crisis without bottoming out at the ZLB.
Should the ECB use core inflation as a signal for medium-term inflation?
Michele Lenza, Lucrezia Reichlin24 June 2011
Should central banks use the headline or the core measure measure of inflation to track medium-term inflationary pressures? Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, board member of the ECB, recently argued in favour of using headline inflation. This provoked strong opposition from Paul Krugman, amongst others. This column assesses the two sides of the debate.
In the last few weeks the press and several blogs have been engaged in a debate on the classic question of whether central banks should rely on headline inflation or core inflation (defined as headline inflation excluding energy and food) to obtain a signal for medium-term inflationary pressures. The debate, this time, was started by a Financial Times article by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, board member of the ECB (Smaghi 2011).
The ECB’s three mistakes in the Greek crisis and how to get sovereign debt right in the future
Jeffrey Frankel16 May 2011
It is a year since Greece was bailed out by EU and IMF and there are many who label it a failure. This column says that while there is plenty of blame to go around, there were three big mistakes made by the European Central Bank. Number one: Letting Greece join the euro in the first place
By now just about everybody agrees that the European bailout of Greece has failed (see for example Darvas et al. 2011). The debt will have to be restructured. As has been evident for well over a year, it is not possible to think of a plausible combination of Greek budget balance, sovereign risk premium, and economic growth rates that imply anything other than an explosive path for the future ratio of debt to GDP.