The Tragedy Of The Euro

These anxieties were assuaged to a degree by establishing the ECB in Frankfurt, close to the watchful eye of the Bundesbank. The other nations were sold the project as bringing greater monetary stability than offered by their individual currencies and the reduction of cross-border transaction costs. Borrowers in formally inflationary currencies also relished the prospect of lower interest rates.

It was clear at the outset that the new omnibus euro required new disciplines, and it was here that the system failed from the outset. Having sensibly set out the euro’s parameters in the Maastricht Agreement, political considerations then took over. The raison d’être of the euro, so far as the politicians were concerned, was to further the European Project and getting countries into the new Eurozone became more important than compliance with the terms.

The terms had been set in the Maastricht Treaty in February 1992, which was signed by the twelve members of the pre-existing European Community. To qualify, membership of the euro required an inflation rate no more than 1.5% higher than the average rate of the three lowest member states, a fiscal deficit of no more than 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year, a ratio of gross government debt to GDP of no more than 60%, membership of the exchange rate mechanism for two years without devaluation, and long-term interest rates no more than 2% higher than the inflation rates of the three lowest inflation rates.

This was sensible stuff but was then ignored by the Maastricht signatories. Only Luxembourg fully qualified for membership under the Maastricht terms.

Even the EU’s sheet-anchor, Germany, failed. Her budget deficit in 1996 was 4% of GDP. France’s was managed (manipulated?) down to 4% from 5%. Greece’s budget deficit after some very creative accounting was shown as 8%, and Italy’s must have had a papal blessing, because it miraculously fell from 8% to 4%.

Germany’s government debt to GDP in 1996 embarrassingly just exceeded the 60% criteria level set at Maastricht. Belgium’s stood at 130%, Italy’s at 124%, and Greece’s (reportedly) at 110%. What debt? We see no debt. Of the original Maastricht signatories, only France and the UK squeezed through on this condition.

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