Yesterday I met the Leader of the new anti Euro German party, Professor Bernd Lucke. We had discussions in a small group, followed by a public lecture which he gave at Westminster.
He told us that as a German economics professor he went along with the consensus in the 1990s and argued that the Euro was a good idea. They thought the discipline of the Euro would force other EU nations in the currency to control their budgets and to become more competitive, so they could live side by side with Germany at a fixed exchange rate settled and enforced by the Euro. He took comfort from the No Bail Out clause, which he thought offered a guarantee that member states in the Euro would have to accpet the fiscal and trade discipline, as they would be unable to resort to excess borrowing.
In 2010 Greece succeeded in establishing the principle that a struggling Euro member could indeed borrow more money from the EU and the IMF. Greece also went on to demonstrate that a Euro member could renege on parts of its debts. This changed Bernd Lucke into an opponent of the current Euro scheme. He apologised for misreading it in the 1990s, when some of us were warning what a disaster it could be for countries that had not brought their economies and budgets into line with Germany as required by convergence programmes.
He now thinks the troubled southern members of the Euro area should leave the currency union and devalue, to try to sort themselves out. Thereafter he thinks it may be necessary for Germany to leave the remaining currency union, as he thinks it is also a strain on France and the other members.
He said that most people in Germany still support both the Euro and wider EU integration. Support for the EU is stronger than support for the Euro, and more Germans are now starting to worry about the social and economic strains the Euro scheme is imposing on some members. In particular many Germans agreee with Professor Lucke that there should be no more bail outs.
His party currently has just 3% of the vote. If it is to make it to 5% to get representation in Parliament under their PR system, he is going to need to get acrosss vividly and frequently the points that the Euro scheme is miscarrying, and that Germany will be expected to pay more of the bills. German audiences should understand this, as after all they paid huge bills to try to get their own ostmark-DM currency union to work in the 1990s. In that case the area joining was much smaller, and they shared a common language and culture. The same cannot be said of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Professor Lucke is a fan of the approach adopted with Cyprus, making depositors and bondholders pay more of the losses. This has in effect created two different currencies, the standard Euro and the Cyprus Euro. The Cyprus Euro is not freeely convertible if you hold too much of it in the wrong banks, and may be devalued by the authorities when you try to draw it out of the bank.