European sovereign debt crisis (2010–present)

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In early 2010, fears of a sovereign debt crisis, the 2010 Euro Crisis[1] developed concerning some European states,[2] including European Union members Greece,[3] Ireland, Portugal, Spain,[4] and Belgium. This led to a crisis of confidence as well as the widening of bond yield spreads and risk insurance on credit default swaps between these countries and other EU members, most importantly Germany.[5][6]

Concern about rising government deficits and debt levels[7][8] across the globe together with a wave of downgrading of European government debt[9] created alarm in financial markets. On 9 May 2010, Europe's Finance Ministers approved a comprehensive rescue package worth almost a trillion dollars aimed at ensuring financial stability across Europe by creating the European Financial Stability Facility.[10]

In 2010 the debt crisis was mostly centred on events in Greece, where there was concern about the rising cost of financing government debt. On 2 May 2010, the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a €110 billion loan for Greece, conditional on the implementation of harsh Greek austerity measures.[11] The Greek bail-out was followed by a €85 billion rescue package for Ireland in November, and then in April 2011 Portugal began negotiations with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund on the eurozone's potential third bailout.[12]

Niall Ferguson wrote in 2010 that "the sovereign debt crisis that is a fiscal crisis of the western world".[13]



[edit] Greek government funding crisis

[edit] Causes

The Greek economy was one of the fastest growing in the eurozone during the 2000s; from 2000 to 2007 it grew at an annual rate of 4.2% as foreign capital flooded the country.[14] A strong economy and falling bond yields allowed the government of Greece to run large structural deficits. According to an editorial published by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, large public deficits are one of the features that have marked the Greek social model since the restoration of democracy in 1974. After the removal of the right leaning military junta, the government wanted to bring disenfranchised left leaning portions of the population into the economic mainstream.[15] In order to do so, successive Greek governments have, among other things, run large deficits to finance public sector jobs, pensions, and other social benefits.[16] Since 1993 debt to GDP has remained above 100%.[17]

Public debt as a percent of GDP (2007).
Public debt as a percent of GDP (2009/2010).

Initially currency devaluation helped finance the borrowing. After the introduction of the euro in Jan 2001, Greece was initially able to borrow due to the lower interest rates government bonds could command. The global financial crisis that began in 2008 had a particularly large effect on Greece. Two of the country's largest industries are tourism and shipping, and both were badly affected by the downturn with revenues falling 15% in 2009.[17]

To keep within the monetary union guidelines, the government of Greece has been found to have consistently and deliberately misreported the country's official economic statistics.[18][19] In the beginning of 2010, it was discovered that Greece had paid Goldman Sachs and other banks hundreds of millions of dollars in fees since 2001 for arranging transactions that hid the actual level of borrowing.[20] The purpose of these deals made by several subsequent Greek governments was to enable them to spend beyond their means, while hiding the actual deficit from the EU overseers.[21] The emphasis on the Greek case has tended to overshadow similar irregularities, usage of derivatives and "massaging" of statistics (to cope with monetary union guidelines) that have also been observed in cases of other EU countries, especially Italy;[22][23][24] however Greece was seen as the worst case.

In 2009, the government of George Papandreou revised its deficit from an estimated 6% (8% if a special tax for building irregularities were not to be applied) to 12.7%.[25] In May 2010, the Greek government deficit was estimated to be 13.6%[26] which is one of the highest in the world relative to GDP.[27] Greek government debt was estimated at €216 billion in January 2010.[28] Accumulated government debt is forecast, according to some estimates, to hit 120% of GDP in 2010.[29] The Greek government bond market is reliant on foreign investors, with some estimates suggesting that up to 70% of Greek government bonds are held externally.[30]

Estimated tax evasion costs the Greek government over $20 billion per year.[31] Despite the crisis, Greek government bond auctions have all been over-subscribed in 2010 (as of 26 January).[32] According to the Financial Times on 25 January 2010, "Investors placed about €20bn ($28bn, £17bn) in orders for the five-year, fixed-rate bond, four times more than the (Greek) government had reckoned on." In March, again according to the Financial Times, "Athens sold €5bn (£4.5bn) in 10-year bonds and received orders for three times that amount."[33]

[edit] Downgrading of debt

On 27 April 2010, the Greek debt rating was decreased to the first levels of 'junk' status by Standard & Poor's amidst fears of default by the Greek government.[34] Yields on Greek government two-year bonds rose to 15.3% following the downgrading.[35] Some analysts question Greece's ability to refinance its debt. Standard & Poor's estimates that in the event of default investors would lose 30–50% of their money.[34] Stock markets worldwide declined in response to this announcement.[36]

Following downgradings by Fitch, Moody's and S&P,[37] Greek bond yields rose in 2010, both in absolute terms and relative to German government bonds.[38] Yields have risen, particularly in the wake of successive ratings downgrading. According to The Wall Street Journal, "with only a handful of bonds changing hands, the meaning of the bond move isn't so clear."[39]

On 3 May 2010, the European Central Bank suspended its minimum threshold for Greek debt "until further notice",[40] meaning the bonds will remain eligible as collateral even with junk status. The decision will guarantee Greek banks' access to cheap central bank funding, and analysts said it should also help increase Greek bonds' attractiveness to investors.[41] Following the introduction of these measures the yield on Greek 10-year bonds fell to 8.5%, 550 basis points above German yields, down from 800 basis points earlier.[42] As of 26 November 2010, Greek 10-year bonds were trading at an effective yield of 11.77%.[43]

[edit] Austerity and loan agreement

On 5 March 2010, the Greek parliament passed the Economy Protection Bill, expected to save €4.8 billion[44] through a number of measures including public sector wage reductions. On 23 April 2010, the Greek government requested that the EU/IMF bailout package be activated.[45] The IMF had said it was "prepared to move expeditiously on this request".[46] Greece needed money before 19 May, or it would face a debt roll over of $11.3bn.[47][48][49]

On 2 May 2010, a loan agreement was reached between Greece, the other eurozone countries, and the International Monetary Fund. The deal consisted of an immediate €45 billion in loans to be provided in 2010, with more funds available later. A total of €110 billion has been agreed.[50][51] The interest for the eurozone loans is 5%, considered to be a rather high level for any bailout loan. The government of Greece agreed to impose a fourth and final round of austerity measures. These include:[52]

On 5 May 2010, a nationwide general strike was held in Athens to protest to the planned spending cuts and tax increases. Three people were killed, dozens injured, and 107 arrested.[54]

According to research published on 5 May 2010, by Citibank, the EMU loans will be pari passu and not senior like those of the IMF. In fact the seniority of the IMF loans themselves has no legal basis but is respected nonetheless. The loans should cover Greece's funding needs for the next three years (estimated at €30 billion for the rest of 2010 and €40 billion each for 2011 and 2012). Citibank finds the fiscal tightening "unexpectedly tough". It will amount to a total of €30 billion (i.e. 12.5% of 2009 Greek GDP) and consist of 5% of GDP tightening in 2010 and a further 4% tightening in 2011.[55]

[edit] Danger of default

Without a bailout agreement, there was a possibility that Greece would have been forced to default on some of its debt. The premiums on Greek debt had risen to a level that reflected a high chance of a default or restructuring. Analysts gave a 25% to 90% chance of a default or restructuring.[56][57] A default would most likely have taken the form of a restructuring where Greece would pay creditors only a portion of what they were owed, perhaps 50 or 25 percent.[58] This would effectively remove Greece from the euro, as it would no longer have collateral with the European Central Bank.[citation needed] It would also destabilise the Euro Interbank Offered Rate, which is backed by government securities.[59]

Because Greece is a member of the eurozone, it cannot unilaterally stimulate its economy with monetary policy. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve expanded its balance sheet by over $1.3 trillion USD since the global financial crisis began, essentially printing new money and injecting it into the system by purchasing outstanding debt.[60]

The overall effect of a probable Greek default would itself be small for the other European economies. Greece represents only 2.5% of the eurozone economy.[61] The more severe danger is that a default by Greece will cause investors to lose faith in other eurozone countries. This concern is focused on Portugal and Ireland, both of whom have high debt and deficit issues.[62] Italy also has a high debt, but its budget position is better than the European average, and it is not considered among the countries most at risk.[63] Recent rumours raised by speculators about a Spanish bail-out were dismissed by Spanish Prime Minister Mr. Zapatero as "complete insanity" and "intolerable".[64] Spain has a comparatively low debt among advanced economies, at only 53% of GDP in 2010, more than 20 points less than Germany, France or the US, and more than 60 points less than Italy, Ireland or Greece,[65] and it doesn't face a risk of default.[66] Spain and Italy are far larger and more central economies than Greece; both countries have most of their debt controlled internally, and are in a better fiscal situation than Greece and Portugal, making a default unlikely unless the situation gets far more severe.[67]

[edit] Objections to proposed policies

  PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain
  PIIGS: with Ireland
  PIIGGS: with United Kingdom (Great-Britain)
See also May 2010 Greek protests

The crisis is seen as a justification for imposing fiscal austerity[68] on Greece in exchange for European funding which would lower borrowing costs for the Greek government.[69] The negative impact of tighter fiscal policy could offset the positive impact of lower borrowing costs and social disruption could have a significantly negative impact on investment and growth in the longer term. Joseph Stiglitz has also criticised the EU for being too slow to help Greece, insufficiently supportive of the new government, lacking the will power to set up sufficient "solidarity and stabilisation framework" to support countries experiencing economic difficulty, and too deferential to bond rating agencies.[70]

As an alternative to the bailout agreement, Greece could have left the eurozone. Wilhelm Hankel, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Frankfurt am Main suggested[71] in an article published in the Financial Times that the preferred solution to the Greek bond 'crisis' is a Greek exit from the euro followed by a devaluation of the currency. Fiscal austerity or a euro exit is the alternative to accepting differentiated government bond yields within the Euro Area. If Greece remains in the euro while accepting higher bond yields, reflecting its high government deficit, then high interest rates would dampen demand, raise savings and slow the economy. An improved trade performance and less reliance on foreign capital would be the result.[citation needed]

In the documentary Debtocracy made by a group of greek journalists, it is argued that Greece should create an audit commission, and force bondholders to suffer from losses, like Ecuador did. This documentary had a tremedous success in Greece, as it was watched at least by 500.000 people in few weeks.

[edit] Spread beyond Greece

The government surplus or deficit of United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, United Kingdom, and Spain against the European Union and the eurozone 2002–2009
A graph showing the economic data from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, United Kingdom, Spain (PIIGGS), Germany, the EU and the eurozone for 2009. The data is taken from Eurostat.

One of the central concerns prior to the bailout was that the crisis could spread beyond Greece. The crisis has reduced confidence in other European economies. Ireland, with a government deficit of 14.3% of GDP, the U.K. with 12.6%, Spain with 11.2%, and Portugal at 9.4% are most at risk.[72][73][74]

On the positive side, The Economist acknowledged on 27 May 2010 that while Europe's "profligate economies will struggle ... as austerity kicks in," it also pointed out that "waning confidence will be mitigated by the boost that exports receive from the euro’s plunge."[75]

Financing needs for the eurozone in 2010 come to a total of €1.6 trillion, while the US is expected to issue US$1.7 trillion more Treasury securities in this period,[76] and Japan has ¥213 trillion of government bonds to roll over.[77] The countries most at risk are those that rely on foreign investors to fund their government sector. According to Ferguson similarities between the U.S. and Greece should not be dismissed.[78]

For 2010, the OECD forecasts $16,000bn will be raised in government bonds among its 30 member countries. Greece has been the notable example of an industrialised country that has faced difficulties in the markets because of rising debt levels. Even countries such as the US, Germany and the UK, have had fraught moments as investors shunned bond auctions due to concerns about public finances and the economy.[79] According to Niall Ferguson in the Financial Times: "Only two things have thus far stood between the US and higher bond yields: purchases of Treasuries by the Federal Reserve and reserve accumulation by the Chinese monetary authorities. But now the Fed is phasing out such purchases and is expected to wind up quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the Chinese have sharply reduced their purchases of Treasuries from around 47 per cent of new issuance in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2008 to an estimated 5 per cent last year."[80]

[edit] Ireland

In April 2010, following a marked increase in Irish 2-year bond yields, Ireland's NTMA state debt agency said that it had "no major refinancing obligations" in 2010. Its requirement for €20 billion in 2010 was matched by a €23 billion cash balance, and it remarked: "We're very comfortably circumstanced".[81] On 18 May the NTMA tested the market and sold a €1.5 billion issue that was three times oversubscribed.[82]

The December 2008 hidden loans controversy within Anglo Irish Bank led to the resignations of three executives, including chief executive Sean FitzPatrick. A mysterious "Golden Circle" of ten businessmen are being investigated over shares they purchased in Anglo Irish Bank in 2008.

An article of emergency legislation, known as the Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Bill 2009 was passed to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank was voted through Dáil Éireann and passed through Seanad Éireann without a vote on 20 January 2009.[83] President Mary McAleese then signed the bill at Áras an Uachtaráin the following day, confirming the bank's nationalisation.[84]

[edit] Spain

Shortly after the announcement of the EU's new "emergency fund" for eurozone countries in early May 2010, Spain's government announced new austerity measures designed to further reduce the country's budget deficit.[85] The socialist government had hoped to avoid such deep cuts, but weak economic growth as well as domestic and international pressure forced the government to expand on cuts already announced in January. As one of the largest eurozone economies the condition of Spain's economy is of particular concern to international observers, and faced pressure from the United States, the IMF, other European countries and the European Commission to cut its deficit more aggressively.[86][87]

[edit] Portugal

A report published in January 2011 by the Diário de Notícias, a leading Portuguese newspaper,[citation needed] demonstrated that in the period between the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and 2010, the democratic Portuguese Republic governments have encouraged over expenditure and investment bubbles through unclear public-private partnerships, funding numerous ineffective and unnecessary external counsultancy and advising committees and firms, allowing considerable slippage in state-managed public works, inflating top management and head officers's bonuses and wages, persistent and lasting recruitment policy that boosts the number of redundant public servants,[citation needed] along with the help of risky credit, public debt creation, and mismanaged European structural and cohesion funds across almost four decades, that the Prime Minister Sócrates's cabinet was not able to forecast or prevent at first hand in 2005, and later was incapable of doing anything to remediate the situation when the country was on the verge of bankruptcy by 2011.[88]

Robert Fishman, in the New York Times article "Portugal's Unnecessary Bailout", points that Portugal fell victim of successive waves of speculation by pressure from bond traders, rating agencies and speculators. In the first quarter of 2010, before markets pressure, Portugal had one of the best rates of economic recovery in the EU. Industrial orders, exports, entrepreneurial innovation and high-school achievement the country matched or even suppressed its neighbors in Western Europe.[89]

[edit] Iceland

Iceland had to suffer the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis. Before the crash of the three largest banks in Iceland, with Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing, jointly owing about €14 billion ($19 billion)or 6 times Iceland's GDP.[90][91] In October 2008, the Icelandic parliament passed emergency legislation to minimise the impact of the financial crisis. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland used permission granted by the emergency legislation to take over the domestic operations of the three largest banks.[92] On 28 October 2008, the Icelandic government raised interest rates to 18%, (as of August 2010, it was 7%) a move which was forced in part by the terms of acquiring a loan from the IMF.

[edit] Slovenia

On June the 4th, 2009, several Slovene companies and banks were planning to issue bonds that year to get fresh funding at more favourable credit terms. The issuing of corporate bonds had been rare in Slovenia until then, but the largest fuel retailer Petrol (PETG.LJ) planned to issue a €50 million ($70,920,000) 5 year auction bond later in June 2009. In May 2010 Slovenia went heavily into debt paying for its part of the €110 billion ($145 billion) rescue package for Greece. Slovenia had scrapped its International Bond Sale Plan as the economy returned to positive growth in the October of 2010. The government had planned to borrow as much as €4.39 billion ($5.6 billion), compared with €4 billion in 2009. Slovenia also sold €1.5 billion worth of 10-year bonds in January and €1 billion of five-year securities in March.[93][94][95] [96][97][98]

[edit] United Kingdom

On Friday 14 September 2007, the first day branches opened following the news (that Northern Rock had called on emergency funding from the Bank of England to help it negotiate the credit market crisis), many Northern Rock customers queued outside branches to withdraw their savings (a run on the bank).[99] This bank run did not take the traditional form, where depositors withdraw money in a snowball effect, leading to a liquidity crisis; instead, it occurred in the aftermath of the liquidity crisis.[100] It was estimated that £1 billion was withdrawn by customers that day – about 5% of the total bank deposits held by Northern Rock.[101] This became emblematic of the level of economic panic in the UK at the time.

Despite not being in the eurozone, the UK contributed £7 billion to the Irish bailout in December 2010. According to the Financial Times: "So far, investors have concentrated their ire on peripheral eurozone economies because of the zone's inability to resolve cleanly the Greek crisis. That is understandable, say many economists, but they add that the focus on continental Europe is unfair."[102] The European Commission predicted that the UK budget deficit would surpass Greece's and be the worst in the EU in 2010.[103]

[edit] Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia

The Baltic States have been among the worst hit by the global financial crisis. In December 2008, the Latvian unemployment rate stood at 7%.[104] By December 2009, the figure had risen to 22.8%.[105] The number of unemployed has more than tripled since the onset of the crisis, giving Latvia the highest rate of unemployment growth in the EU.

[edit] Belgium

In 2010, Belgium's public debt was 100% of its GDP - the third highest in the Euro zone after Greece and Italy[106] and there were doubts about the financial stability of the banks.[107] After inconclusive elections in June, by November the country still had no government and no budget for 2011 as parties from the two main language groups in the country (Flemish and Walloon) were unable reach agreement on how to deal with the economy.[106] Financial analysts forecast that Belgium would be next country to be hit by the financial crisis as Belgium's borrowing costs rose.[107] However the government deficit of 5% was relatively modest and Belgian government 10-year bond yields in November 2010 of 3.7% were still below those of Ireland (9.2%), Portugal (7%) and Spain (5.2%).[107]

[edit] EU emergency measures

On 9 May 2010 the 27 member states of the European Union agree to create the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), a legal instrument[108] aiming at preserving financial stability in Europe by providing financial assistance to eurozone states in difficulty.[109]

In order to reach these goals the Facility is devised in the form of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that will sell bonds and use the money it raises to make loans up to a maximum of 440 billion to eurozone nations in need. The bonds will be backed by guarantees given by the European Commission representing the whole EU, the eurozone member states, and the IMF. The new entity will sell debt only after an aid request is made by a country.[110]

The EFSF will be combined to a € 60 billion loan coming from the European financial stabilisation mechanism (reliant on guarantees given by the European Commission using the EU budget as collateral) and to a € 250 billion loan backed by the IMF in order to obtain a financial safety net up to € 750 billions.[111][112] The agreement allows the European Central Bank to start buying government debt which is expected to reduce bond yields.[113] (Greek bond yields fell from over 10% to just over 5%;[114] Asian bonds yields also fell with the EU bailout.[115])

The ECB has announced a series measures aimed at reducing volatility in the financial markets and at improving liquidity:[116]

Subsequently, the member banks of the European System of Central Banks started buying government debt.[119]

Stocks worldwide surged after this announcement as fears that the Greek debt crisis would spread subsided,[120] some rose the most in a year or more.[121] The Euro made its biggest gain in 18 months,[122] before falling to a new four-year low a week later.[123] Commodity prices also rose following the announcement.[124] The dollar Libor held at a nine-month high.[125] Default swaps also fell.[126] The VIX closed down a record almost 30%, after a record weekly rise the preceding week that prompted the bailout.[127]

Despite the moves by the EU, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Olli Rehn, called for "absolutely necessary" deficit cuts by the heavily indebted countries of Spain and Portugal.[128] Private sector bankers and economists also warned that the threat from a double dip recession has not faded. Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, warned about this threat saying "When you have a vulnerable post-crisis economic recovery and crises reverberating in the aftermath of that, you have some very serious risks to the global business cycle."[129] Nouriel Roubini said the new credit available to the heavily indebted countries did not equate to an immediate revival of economic fortunes: "While money is available now on the table, all this money is conditional on all these countries doing fiscal adjustment and structural reform."[130]

After initially falling to a four-year low early in the week following the announcement of the EU guarantee packages, the euro rose as hedge funds and other short-term traders unwound short positions and carry trades in the currency.[131]

While the aid package has so far averted a financial panic, international credit rating agencies consider that eurozone countries such as Portugal continue to have economic difficulties.[132]

[edit] Long-term solutions

European Union leaders have made two major proposals for ensuring fiscal stability in the long term. The first proposal is the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility.[133] The second is a single authority responsible for tax policy oversight and government spending coordination of EU member countries, temporarily called the European Treasury.[134] The stability facility is financially backed by the EU and the IMF. The European Parliament, the European Council, and especially the European Commission, can all provide some support for the treasury while it is still being built. However, strong European Commission oversight in the fields of taxation and budgetary policy and the enforcement mechanisms that go with it have sometimes been described as potential infringements on the sovereignty of eurozone member states[135]

Some senior German policy makers went as far as to say that emergency bailouts should bring harsh penalties to EU aid recipients such as Greece.[136] Others argue that an abrupt return to "non-Keynesian" financial policies is not a viable solution and predict the deflationary policies now being imposed on countries such as Greece and Italy might prolong and deepen their recessions.[137] The Economist has suggested that ultimately the Greek "social contract," which involves "buying" social peace through public sector jobs, pensions, and other social benefits, will have to be changed to one predicated more on price stability and government restraint if the euro is to survive.[138] As Greece can no longer devalue its way out of economic difficulties it will have to more tightly control spending than it has since the inception of theThird Hellenic Republic.

Regardless of the corrective measures chosen to solve the current predicament, as long as cross border capital flows remain unregulated in the Euro Area,[139] asset bubbles[140] and current account imbalances are likely to continue. For example, a country that runs a large current account or trade deficit (i.e., it imports more than it exports) must also be a net importer of capital; this is a mathematical identity called the balance of payments. In other words, a country that imports more than it exports must also borrow to pay for those imports. Conversely, Germany's large trade surplus (net export position) means that it must also be a net exporter of capital, lending money to other countries to allow them to buy German goods.[141] The 2009 trade deficits for Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal were estimated to be $69.5 billion, $34.4B and $18.6B, respectively ($122.5B total), while Germany's trade surplus was $109.7B.[142] A similar imbalance exists in the U.S., which runs a large trade deficit (net import position) and therefore is a net borrower of capital from abroad. Ben Bernanke warned of the risks of such imbalances in 2005, arguing that a "savings glut" in one country with a trade surplus can drive capital into other countries with trade deficits, artificially lowering interest rates and creating asset bubbles.[143][144]

A country with a large trade surplus would generally see the value of its currency appreciate relative to other currencies, which would reduce the imbalance as the relative price of its exports increases. This currency appreciation occurs as the importing country sells its currency to buy the exporting country's currency used to purchase the goods. However, many of the countries involved in the crisis are on the Euro, so this is not an available solution at present. Alternatively, trade imbalances might be addressed by changing consumption and savings habits. For example, if a country's citizens saved more instead of consuming imports, this would reduce its trade deficit. Likewise, reducing budget deficits is another method of raising a country's level of saving. Capital controls that restrict or penalize the flow of capital across borders is another method that can reduce trade imbalances. Interest rates can also be raised to encourage domestic saving, although this benefit is offset by slowing down an economy and increasing government interest payments.[145]

The suggestion has been made that long term stability in the eurozone requires a common fiscal policy rather than controls on portfolio investment.[146] In exchange for cheaper funding from the EU, Greece and other countries, in addition to having already lost control over monetary policy and foreign exchange policy since the euro came into being, would therefore also lose control over domestic fiscal policy.

Finally, there has been some criticism over the austerity measures implemented by most European nations to counter this debt crisis. Apart from arguments over whether or not austerity, rather than increased or frozen spending, is a macroeconomic solution, there has also been a sense of unjust crisis management which mostly stems from the notion that, as a direct consequence of the Financial crisis of 2007–2010, the working population should not be held responsible for the economic mismanagement errors of economists, investors, and bankers. Over 23 million EU workers have become unemployed as a consequence of the global economic crisis of 2007-2010, whilst thousands of bankers across the EU have become millionaires despite collapse or nationalisation (ultimately paid for by taxpayers) of institutions they worked for during the crisis, a fact that has lead many to call for additional regulation of the banking sector across not only Europe, but the entire world.[147]

In November, as concerns started to resurface about the fiscal health of Ireland, Greece and Portugal, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said "If we don’t survive with the euro zone we will not survive with the European Union."[148]

In March 2011 was initiated a new reform of the Stability and Growth Pact aiming at straightening the rules by adopting an automatic procedure for imposing of penalties in case of breaches of either the deficit or the debt rules.[149][150]

Subsequently a the proposed European treasury was implemented as the temporary European Financial Stability Facility that will function until the permanent European Stability Mechanism is established following ratification of the European Stability Mechanism treaty.

[edit] Controversies

[edit] Credit rating agencies

The international credit rating agencies – Moody's, S&P and Fitch – have played a central[151] and controversial role[152] in the current European bond market crisis.[153] As with the housing bubble[154][155] and the Icelandic crisis,[156][157] the ratings agencies have been under fire. The agencies have been accused of giving overly generous ratings due to conflicts of interest.[158] Ratings agencies also have a tendency to act conservatively, and to take some time to adjust when a firm or country is in trouble.[159] In the case of Greece, the market responded to the crisis before the downgrades, with Greek bonds trading at junk levels several weeks before the ratings agencies began to describe them as such.[151]

Government officials have criticised the ratings agencies and the German finance minister has said traders should not take global rating agencies "too seriously" following downgrades of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, called for an "independent" European rating agency, which could avoid the conflicts of interest that he claimed US-based agencies faced.[160] According to the Financial Times "The latest furore over the agencies' role in the sovereign debt market"[160] is likely to bring about more supervision of these agencies. Germany's foreign minister suggested the European Union should create its own rating agency. He spoke after downgrades of Greece and Portugal roiled financial markets.[151]

European leaders are reportedly studying the possibility of setting up a European ratings agency in order that the private U.S.-based ratings agencies have less influence on developments in European financial markets in the future.[161][162] Due to the failures of the ratings agencies, European regulators will be given new powers to supervise ratings agencies.[152] These supervisory powers will come into effect in December 2010.

In a response to the actions of the private U.S. based ratings agencies the ECB announced on 3 May that it will accept as collateral all outstanding and new debt instruments issued or guaranteed by the Greek government, regardless of the nation's credit rating.[163]

[edit] Media

There has been considerable controversy about the role of the English-language press in the regard to the bond market crisis.[164][165] Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ordered the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia intelligence service to investigate the role of the "Anglo-Saxon media" in fomenting the crisis.[166][167][168][169] No results have so far been reported as a result of this investigation.

According to the Madrid daily El País, "the National Intelligence Center (CNI) was investigating 'whether investors' attacks and the aggressiveness of some Anglo-Saxon [sic] media are driven by market forces and challenges facing the Spanish economy, or whether there is something more behind this campaign.'"[170][171][172] The Spanish Prime Minister has suggested[173] that the recent financial market crisis in Europe is an attempt to draw international capital away from the euro[174] in order that countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S., can continue to fund their large external deficits which are matched by large government deficits.[7] The U.S. and U.K. do not have large domestic savings pools to draw on and therefore are dependent on external savings.[175] This is not the case in the eurozone which is self funding.[176]

Greek Prime Minister Papandreou is quoted as saying that there was no question of Greece leaving the euro and suggested that the ­crisis was politically as well as financially motivated. "This is an attack on the eurozone by certain other interests, political or financial".[177] On the same time, a statistic on the articles referenced here shows that only "bad" news were propagated by the media and never "good" news.

[edit] Role of speculators

Financial speculators and hedge funds engaged in selling euros have also been accused by both the Spanish and Greek Prime Ministers of worsening the crisis.[178][179] Angela Merkel has stated that "institutions bailed out with public funds are exploiting the budget crisis in Greece and elsewhere."[180]

The role of Goldman Sachs[181] in Greek bond yield increases is also under scrutiny.[182] It is not yet clear to what extent this bank has been involved in the unfolding of the crisis or if they have made a profit as a result of the sell-off on the Greek government debt market.

In response to accusations that speculators were worsening the problem, some markets banned naked short selling for a few months.[183]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Stefan Schultz (11 February 2010). "Five Threats to the Common Currency". Der Spiegel.,1518,677214,00.html. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  2. ^ George Matlock (16 February 2010). "Peripheral euro zone government bond spreads widen". Reuters. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  3. ^ Brian Blackstone, Tom Lauricella, and Neil Shah (5 February 2010). "Global Markets Shudder: Doubts About U.S. Economy and a Debt Crunch in Europe Jolt Hopes for a Recovery". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Bruce Walker (9 April 2010). "Greek Debt Crisis Worsens". The New American. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "Greek/German bond yield spread more than 1,000 bps". 28 April 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "Gilt yields rise amid UK debt concerns". 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  7. ^ a b "Britain's deficit third worst in the world, table". The Daily Telegraph (London). 19 February 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  8. ^ "Fiscal Deficit and Unemployment Rate, FT". Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
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