On Friday, June 29th, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acquiesced to changes to a permanent Eurozone bailout fund—“before the ink was dry,” as critics complained. Besides easing the conditions under which bailouts would be given, the concessions included an agreement that funds intended for indebted governments could be funneled directly to stressed banks … //
… Why Did Merkel Cave?
“Reactions back home were devastating,” reported der Spiegel. “[T]he impression was that [Merkel] had been out-maneuvered by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spanish Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy.”
As of June 21, 13 of 17 countries still had not ratified the ESM; and the most important ratification needed was Germany’s, the largest economy in the Eurozone. Earlier, Angela Merkel had opposed using the bailout fund to pump money directly into struggling European banks. But at the EU summit that began on Thursday and dragged on well into the night, she finally relented. Late Friday evening, German lawmakers voted 493-106 in favor of the €700 billion ($890 billion) permanent bailout fund.
What caused Merkel to back down? According to an article in The Economist, the late night was “filled with bluff and bluster,” in which
Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister . . . , along with Italy’s Mario Monti, had threatened to block any agreement at the summit unless their demands were met. Mr Rajoy obtained satisfaction, but the same is not quite true of Mr Monti, who had been the most adamant of the two.
Mr Monti declared himself satisfied, but caused considerable irritation to partners. Among the deals he had blocked was the “growth pact”, a mixture of stimulus measures.
What Monti achieved by this maneuver was not clear:
“Who needs the growth pact? Not Germany,” said one bemused participant. The euro zone’s fiscal hawks say the bond-buying mechanism will be little different from the existing system. “Mario Monti raised a gun to his head and threatened to shoot himself. In the end he wounded himself in the shoulder,” said one scornful diplomat.
Maybe. Or maybe the bond-buying mechanism was not what he was really after.
The Italian Coup D’Etat: … //
… Implementing the Shock Doctrine:
In another bankers’ coup last November, former Goldman Sachs executive Mario Draghi replaced Jean-Claude Trichet as head of the European Central Bank. The European Stability Mechanism quickly followed. It was a permanent rescue facility intended to replace certain temporary facilities as soon as the member states had ratified it, slated to occur by July 1, 2012. The ESM came to an initial vote in January 2012, when it was passed in the dead of night with barely a mention in the press.
The recent modifications were also agreed to in the dead of night, ostensibly because Italy and Spain were afflicted with onerously high interest rates. But there are other ways to bring down interest rates on sovereign debt besides forcing whole countries into open-ended pacts to bail out private banks for unlimited sums in perpetuity, in the hope that the banks might bail the governments out in return.
The U.S. 2012 budget deficit is significantly worse than either Italy’s or Spain’s, yet somehow the U.S. has managed to keep interest rates on its debt at record lows. How has it pulled this off?
One theory is that JPMorgan’s $57 trillion in interest rate swaps have something to do with it. Another explanation, however, is that the Fed has simply stepped in as lender of last resort and bought up any debt not sold at the low rate set by the Treasury, using “quantitative easing” (money created on a computer screen). Between December 2008 and June 2011, the Fed bought a whopping $2.3 trillion of U.S. bonds in two rounds of quantitative easing. Why can’t the European Central Bank do the same thing? The answer is that there are rules against it, but rules are just arbitrary agreements. They can be changed by agreement—and often have been, to save the banks.
As the cynic quoted in The Economist article above observed, the bond-buying mechanism for countries under the ESM will be little different from the existing system. Mario Monti said the plan will support government bond prices only in countries that comply with fiscal targets, and that it will act as an incentive for governments to follow virtuous policies. That means avoiding deficits, even if it requires further austerity measures and selling of assets. On the public level, that could mean national treasures like the Acropolis. On the private level, The New York Times reported Friday that some desperate out-of-work Europeans were going so far as to sell their kidneys to pay household bills. The shock doctrine, it seems, has come to the doorsteps of privileged Westerners.
The German diplomats negotiating the ESM did leave open some escape hatches, including a request by Germany’s highest court to the country’s president not to sign the treaties into law until a legal review can be completed. At least 12,000 complaints are expected to be filed with the Federal Constitutional Court regarding the ESM and the fiscal pact. The legal review could well conclude that the ESM illegally hijacks taxpayer funds for private bank profit.
It is one thing to pool national resources to bail out other sovereign governments, quite another to write a blank check to bail out the profligate private banks that precipitated the global downturn. Europe has a strong tradition of publicly-owned banks. If the people must bear the costs, the people should own the banks and reap the benefits. (full text).
The New Financial Aristocracy, on Global Research.ca (first on WSWS http://wsws.org/ ), by Andre Damon, July 1, 2012;
Parliament Approves ESM and Fiscal Pact: Merkel Secures Vote for Euro Treaties, on Spiegel Online International, by jtw with wires, June 29, 2012;
Merkel’s Tactical Victory: Smart Concessions from a Seasoned Negotiator, on Spiegel Online International, by Christian Rickens, June 29, 2012.