The story of Cyprus is a cautionary tale for those who like the Euro and think the EU is getting it right. The EU is now demanding that Cyprus finds Euro 5.8bn or 33% of her National Output as her contribution to the rescue funding the state and its banks now needs. That would be like the EU telling the UK to find a one off tax revenue of £500 billion, almost the total tax revenue each year which we collect.
Cyprus is asked to cut her budget deficit by 4.5% of GDP in four years, sell more than 8% of her GDP by privatisations, undertake a large gold swap and raise her Corporation tax rate from 10% to 12.5%.
It just shows what can happen when a country surrenders its monetary and budgetary sovereignty to the EU. In the good days of the Euro a large banking centre developed in Cyprus. EU rules and regulations did not prevent or control that at the time, despite it being within the ring fence of the Eurozone and therefore of common interest to fellow zone members. Now it appears the banks need a major injection of new capital, and the state has to slash its borrowing quickly, to persuade the EU/IMF bank managers to lend some more.
Cyprus is saying these measures are too extreme. The tax hit on deposits is large, though of course some of that is a hit on foreigners with deposits in Cyprus. The tax rises and the budget contraints are very large. Germany and her allies are saying that of course a country in such a financial difficulty needs to contribute to its own recovery. The row is over how much, and whether such a large demand might make matters worse.
Cyprus is to the Euro as a district area in the UK is to the sterling union in terms of size. You would normally expect the centre to bail it out whilst dictating future terms. Because the Euro area preserves the fiction of independent countries within the zone, the rest of the Euro area feel they do need to demand a bigger sacrifice from the offending country.
The battle of Cyprus is an important one in the war over the richer parts of the Union accepting their responsibilities for the poorer parts, and in the acceptance by the poorer parts that they do need to foll0w the discipline of the strong. Meanwhile, threatening depsoits in Cyprus is not a good idea from the wider perspective. It will undermine confidence in weak banks and weak countries elsewhere and complicate the ECB’s job of keeeping the banks liquid.
Cyprus’s banks remain closed. This is unacceptable. Normal economic activity ceases if banks cannot make money available and settle transactions. They need to reopen the banks quickly, with a clear statement of depositors’ positions. The ECB needs to supply ample liquidity to the Cyprus banks to prevent a major run. It is almost beyond belief that people living in an advanced EU country, part of their common currency, can get to the point where they cannot undertake normal transactions through their bank and do not know how much of their money in the bank they will one day be able to withdraw. It is even worse than the many arguments and forecasts some of us made when putting the case against the Euro.