Ever since she conceded over setting up the Euro to France, Germany has been a semi detached member. Germany has willed the end, a common currency. She has refused the means, a political, monetary and banking union. Germany has wanted a relatively weak currency which helps her export and build up large surpluses. She has not wanted to share her wealth with the other members of the zone who are struggling financially.
Germany has been adamant that she will not pay for any weak country’s balance of payments deficit. They need to export more and import less. She has refused to prop up weak banks in other countries, saying that they need to lend less and raise more share capital. She has refused to grant or lend money to weak states that spend too much and need to borrow. She has told them to cut spending and raise taxes. All this has been called Germany’s austerity policy for the Euro. Most people think it has been followed, that Germany is in charge, and Greece will have to submit again.
It is true that all these approaches are formally Germany’s policy. It is also true that other countries in the Euro have been forced to cut spending, cut wages, recapitalise banks and do other prudent but deflationary things to try to live within the Euro. These policies will not allow the Euro to be backed by a successful, growing and prosperous area. In some co0untries they had led to mass unemployment, big cuts in wages, and a generation of young people unable to join the workforce.
However, it has not gone all Germany’s way. If Germany had kept them all on these policies all the time the Euro would have broken up by now. Just as Germany requires more cuts and more austerity, so behind the scenes step by step the rest force Germany to accept more responsibility for the communal debts, and to offer more money to the laggard economies. Germany has lost a series of crucial battles for prudence. In 2011 when the currency was near collapse Germany accepted large lines of credit being granted by the ECB to commercial banks in the zone. In 2014 Germany was forced to accept quantitative easing to bid up the bond prices of other states in the union and create more Euro cash.
Today Germany has to accept that the ECB will finance the Greek commercial banks, offering them as much cash as they need. These banks in turn can finance the Greek state.
Germany- and others – have also had to accept major debt write offs by both Greece and Cyprus in their respective past bankruptcies. Both were allowed to stay in the Euro despite their poor financial conduct.
The battle between Greece and Germany will prove once again that Germany has to lose if she wants to keep the Euro. Germany has to turn a blind eye to some new fix, some extend and pretend approach to Greek debt and continued cash supply to Greek banks. Alternatively Germans along with others will have to accept a major write down of Greek debt from another bankruptcy of the state along with possible losses in commercial banks if Germany prevents further ECB support. This morning the Greek Prime Minister has made a fighting speech implying he either wins or he declares bankruptcy and leaves the Euro. Germany and other states will take a big hit on Greek bonds if that happens.
Germany needs to wake up to the shocking reality. All the time she stays in the Euro she will be forced one way or an other to pay more of its bills. She has but a minority share of the votes (18%) and decision making, in a zone now dominated by states who believe they should be able to spend more of Germany’s money for her. So it will be, unless Germany has decided to move from semi detached to outside the zone. If she stays in she will discover she is in a terrace with shared walls she needs to pay to repair.