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Monday, 11 June 2012

Dubloons for the Dons

Today's German press is highly critical of the fudge by which the eurozone is to bail out the Spanish banking system with a fund of up to 100 billion euros, by means to be clarified at an indeterminate cost to the currency union in general and to Germany in particular. In some editorials the term 'blackmail' is used frankly; in others the same analysis is more delicately expressed. While Greece and Ireland were implicitly deemed to be 'small enough to fail' Spain [like Goldman or Morgan] has been treated as 'too big to allow it to fail'. The eurozone could survive without Greece and Cyprus; provided there was no domino effect on Spain or Italy: but the impression over the past week became a conviction that if Spain was allowed to collapse financially the eurozone would be under terminal threat and the whole European project would massively be enfeebled.

All the eurozone finance ministers were complicit in the round of conference calls that took place at the end of last week. All their governments have become almost-unconditionally susceptible to being organised by Germany into a superstate. The details of the fusion, and of the way the inner union will articulate with the non-euro EU member states must be settled quickly; and Germany will predominate in all the discussions. The vulnerabilities of Italy and France are so significant that neither will have a veto on the integration process: and the influence of the eurorats in Brussels will be diminished in favour of the smooth suits in Frankfort.

The first few hours of trading in international markets after the announcement of the purported loan-guarantee to the Spanish banks demonstrated that supernational gamblers would only give credibility to the package when they can see the funds actually allocated by the Germans. The package was announced on trust: and it was not trusted. The eurozone expressed an intention to support Spanish banks, in circumstances where no fund had yet been established from which the guarantee could be converted into a series of payouts. 'The markets' on which the prices of Spanish [and Italian] bonds have fallen since the 'rescue' was announced are only in a tiny proportion driven by real-world firms [such as pension funds] that hold such bonds as part of their long-term investment portfolios. The majority of recent purchases and sales of state bonds and of bonds issued by south European banks are speculative gambles: the 'value' of the bonds is utterly irrelevant to the gamblers, who are interested only in making a gain by rightly predicting a rise or a fall in the price of the euro in terms of dollars, sterling, yen or other currencies. The market reaction strengthens the Germans' hand: the Spanish deal - and any subsequent deal for Italy or France - will only have credibility if Germany actually places resources in the appropriate backing funds. Chancellor Merkel faces elections: she and her party will be annihilated if they are perceived to have sold the German taxpayer short. Serious negotiations must now begin, with the collapse of the euro as the imminent threat. The eurorats will posture around the periphery, but the power unconditionally rests between Berlin and Frankfort; the modern and the medieval capitals of the German Reich.

Britain has blundered into the position where most of the electorate want the UK to be separated from this whole mess: so it can't be all bad!

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