It has been an onslaught. Eurozone heads of state, top politicians, unelected kingpins, and bureaucratic honchos threatened everyone in sight with the demise of the euro, or promised to do “everything” or “whatever it takes” to save it even if it violated treaties or the foundation of democracy. In between the lines, the mammoth costs of continuing the bailouts or of breaking everything up oozed to the surface. But it got even worse.
Spain’s banks are getting bailed out with €100 billion. It won’t be enough, but it’ll buy time—a Eurozone mantra. Three of Spain’s seventeen heavily indebted regions asked for a bailout from the central government, and more are coming, but the central government can’t bail out anything because it’s broke. It needs a bailout for itself and for its regions. A bailout far larger than any of the prior bailouts. And then there’s Italy.
“The euro is irreversible,” said ECB President Mario Draghi as a whiff of panic began sweeping over the Eurozone. Everybody was supposed to enjoy their long vacation, and nothing important was supposed to happen. But, like a group of disruptive homeless guys, the ECB, the International Monetary Fund, and politicians have apparently gotten tired of kicking the Greek bailout can down the road, and they stomped on it instead.
One thing Greek politicians have taught other European leaders: fear mongering for the purpose of extortion is the way to go. It might not work, and it might be counterproductive, and it might destroy confidence in the economy and give investors goose bumps and blow up markets, and it might cause spooked consumers to hold back on purchases and worried businesses to freeze hiring plans, thus exacerbating the situation, but it’s nevertheless the way to go.
“I believe, no,” is how Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti answered the question if Italy would seek a bailout—lacking the bravado and vehemence with which Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had claimed for the longest time that Spain wouldn’t need one. Until it needed one. The question was hot. It followed the kerfuffle that ensued when Austrian Finance Minister had let it slip that Italy might also need “support.” But Italy is too big to get bailed out.
Economic reforms are tough. While they’re supposed to open opportunities, put budgets on sounder footing, or make the country more competitive, they invariably cut into the flesh of some groups, who then react with demonstrations and strikes to put pressure on the reformers to preserve the status quo. But in Italy, pharmacists have come up with an ingenious and tongue-in-cheek strike aimed straight at the reformers personally.
Europe with its relatively affluent population of 500 million has turned into a nightmare for the auto industry. And the R-word—restructuring—unpalatable and almost illegal as it is in Europe, is being bandied about, this time by Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who, as President of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, spoke for all EU automakers. It was a dire warning and a cry for help.
The Costa Concordia was launched on September 2, 2005, with a mishap that back then didn’t mean anything: the champagne bottle thrown against its hull didn’t break. But on January 13, at 10 pm, the mega cruise ship hit a reef near the small island of Giglio, off the coast of the Tuscany. So far, 11 bodies have been found and 23 people are still missing.
Satellite image by Digital Globe
“The fact that we profit massively from the euro doesn’t mean we have to accept every political horse-trade to save the common currency,” said Anton Börner, president of Germany’s Association of Exporters—a swipe at the Italian prime minister who’d demanded that Germany dig deeper into its pockets to reduce the debt burden of other countries, such as, well, Italy. When the German industrial elite talks about exiting the Eurozone….
“I’m very happy with the result,” Merkel told the cameras. But the agreement may be illegal under EU law and may devastate weaker economies. It elevated Germany to a leadership role that other countries perceive as domineering. By isolating the UK, it cut a deep gash into the EU. And it can’t be put into a treaty. But it did offer a compromise of sorts.