International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde Tuesday called on euro-zone governments to accept more common liability for each other's debts, saying that the region urgently needs to take further steps to contain the crisis. "We consider that more needs to be done, particularly by way of fiscal liability-sharing, and there are multiple ways to do that," Lagarde told a press conference in London to mark the completion of a regular review of U.K. finances. So did the OECD:
We are living at a critical juncture in the history of the Union. The sovereign debt crisis has exposed serious weaknesses in the institutional framework; in this context, the difficulties in finding common solutions are having a negative impact on market valuations. The extraordinary measures taken by the ECB have gained us time; they have preserved the functioning of monetary policy.
But we have now reached a point where European integration, in order to survive, needs a bold leap of political imagination. It is in this sense that I have referred to the need for a “growth compact” alongside the well-known “fiscal compact”. He went on to explain what he meant by a "growth compact", namely closer economic integration:
A growth compact rests on three pillars and the most important one, from a structural viewpoint, is political: the economic and financial crisis has challenged the myopic belief that monetary union could remain just that, and not evolve into something closer, more binding, into an arrangement whereby national sovereignty on economic policy is replaced by the Community ruling. If the governments of the Member States of the euro define jointly and irrevocably their vision of what the political and economic construct that supports the single currency will be and what the conditions to reach that goal together should be. This is the most effective answer to the question everyone is asking: “Where will the euro be in ten years’ time?”. Hmm, sounds sort of like an endorsement of eurobonds to me.
He went on to talk about "structural reforms", which I wrote about extensively in the past (see Mario Draghi reveals the Grand Plan). It means, in effect, structural reforms at the micro-economic level so that it's easier to fire people. It also means internal devaluation by the peripheral countries:
The second pillar is that of structural reforms, especially, but not only, in the product and labour markets. The completion of the single market and the strengthening of competition are crucial for growth and employment. Labour market reforms that combine flexibility and mobility with a sense of fairness and social inclusion are essential.
Growth and fairness are closely connected: without growth, and the events of recent months also reflect this, the temptation to “circle our wagons” gains strength, and solidarity weakens. Without fairness, the economy breaks up into multiple interest groups, no common good emerges as a result of social and economic interaction, and there are negative effects on the capacity to grow. Recent Italian history has no shortage of examples. By fairness, he refers partly to the high level of youth unemployment compared to the entrenched older generation with their job security and gold-plated pension plans:
In the European Union, between 2007 and 2011 the unemployment rate rose by 5.8 percentage points among the 15-24 year olds, by 3.5 points among the 25-34 year olds and by 1.8 points in the 35-64 age range. Qualitatively, the profile is similar almost everywhere; the clear exception is Germany, where the unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year olds in the first quarter of 2012 was 8%; in Italy it was 34.2%, in Spain 50.7% and the euro area average was 21.9%. These trends reflect a fundamental question: they confirm the particular vulnerability of this essential part of our workforce. The unequal sharing of the “cost of flexibility”, only affecting young people, an eternal flexibility with no hope of stabilisation, leads among other things to companies not investing in young people, whose skills and talents often decline in jobs with low added value. The underuse of their resources reduces growth in various ways: it makes the creation of start-ups less likely – and they are on average more innovative than others – it causes a decline in skills in the long run, slowing down the assimilation of new technology and acting as a brake on efficient production processes. In addition to undermining society’s sense of fairness, it is a waste that we cannot afford. In addition, Draghi endorsed the idea of pan-European infrastructure bonds:
The third pillar is the revival of public investment: the use of public resources to push forward investment in infrastructure and human capital, research and innovation at national and European levels. (The proposed strengthening of the EIB and the reprogramming of Union structural funds in favour of less-developed areas go in this direction). An endorsement of closer economic integration? A advocate for pan-European infrastructure bonds, which is the first step in the slippery slope to eurobonds?
It sounds like Merkel is losing her last ally in Mario Draghi. Expect the Germans to bend sooner than later.
Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. ("Qwest"). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.
None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.