Time is running out for Europe: Saxo Bank
The best way for me to describe the misery ahead for Greece and Europe would be to draw on my country Denmark’s dismal national football team. Much like Europe, it used to be 'somebody' - winning the European Championship in 1992, and beating the mighty Germany in the final. But since then, it has been mostly downhill again, very similar to Europe and its growth rates.
Today’s team is an awkward collection of sometimes useful veterans (though many are past their prime) and insufficiently seasoned young talent. Keeping our analogy running - in Europe the 'old' nations still seems to think they are on the top of the world and have some influence but every single country in Europe lacks job growth, economic growth and productivity, and is standing still at best. The up and comers, meanwhile, are insufficiently large to turn the overall tide.
Denmark is coached by a hero of Danish football’s glory days: Mr. Morten Olsen - five years ago his ideas where new and exciting, now the opponents know Denmark plays counterattack over the wings. In Europe, we know that every bump in the road will be met with liquidity instead of resolving the lacking solvency. The playbook for EU remains the same: pretend there is no problem and it will go away. There is always the next game or the one after that. Where is risk willingness, the support a new approach and new players?
So now Denmark’s football team and the EU have a final chance: change now or risk a serious defeat. The stakes for Danish football are relatively high – a missed chance at participating in the European Cup in 2012 and possibly the World Cup in 2014 – the stakes for Europe are even higher – a risk of disorderly collapse.
Europe is close to losing a generation of youth in Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy, with between 20 and 45 per cent youth unemployment. To avoid losing this generation, European politicians and the ECB need to come up with a radically new game plan.
First, we need to stop pretending we can dance around the word “default” Let me help: if your income is less than your expenses and you can’t borrow money, you are done, finito, insolvent and in default. This does not have to mean the end of the world, though, as can be seen by Russia (where I happen to be on business as I am writing this). In 1998 the Russian default hurt very badly, but now Russia is part of the famous group of BRIC nations that many expect to remain world growth leaders all the way to 2050.
Finland is another example. Although Finland didn’t default when the USSR collapsed after the fall of the Berlin wall, it did experience massive bank failures, close to 20 per cent unemployment in by 1994 and -6 per cent growth already in 1991. Today Finland stands tall in Europe as the poster child for change, investment and innovations. The Finns decided to face the reality and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the crisis and reengineer their approach.
That is another lesson from Greece; the longer you avoid facing the truth, the more you solve debt with debt, the deeper the hole you are digging as your new beginning necessitates a larger and large initial trauma.
Politicians tend to underestimate their voters ability to deal with a crisis. If the population at large knows it’s coming, they can and will deal with it. Many of today’s generation of politicians forget that their grandparents lived through two wars, the depression and several stock market crashes only to create the most robust growth era in modern history.
I see press over the weekend suggesting that the potential for Greek debt relief is something positive. But it can’t be positive when the country is insolvent. Yes, there will be some contagion and some short-term high volatility if Greece goes the default rout, but as they say in the world of sports: no pain, no gain.
In fact, a crisis 2.0 could be what is needed to create both the economic and political platform that will solve Europe’s problems: namely, a fiscal union. Do not misunderstand me – I am agnostic on the EU’s existential question, but the EU was created as a political institution, not an economic one. Europe is a house without a financial foundation: no ministry of finance.
The time has come for some major decisions if the great European experiment is to survive. The Euro Zone needs a Ministry of Finance, one that should probably issue Euro Bonds from EFSF/ESM.
The idea that one day the voters of Europe will rise up and embrace the EU idea is fading fast. The rising social tension in all of Europe shows us that – similar to my impatience with the Danish national football team – time is running out. Let’s for once hear some straight talk from the EU and the ECB and let’s put an end to the extend-and-pretend nonsense and attempts to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. Otherwise, Europe will continue to score own goals. That’s a pity, as a new start – even if painful at first – could set up decades of sustainable growth as more transparency and less leverage would bring more stable financial markets.
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