The news background for the beleaguered Euro area has remained poor. It has not received so much prominence against the competition of the migration crisis, but it remains serious.
The latest easing from the European Central Bank has not resolved the difficulties of credit creation in a zone with too many weak banks. The Bank of Portugal is now being sued over bond changes applied to Novo Banco in Portugal. The Head of the IMF has been undertaking an acrimonious correspondence with the Greek authorities about the lack of progress in their implementation of austerity policies as a prelude to extending further credit to them. The Italian authorities are said to be looking at ways of getting more capital into their weaker banks and relieving them of some of the problem loans that enfeeble them.
The Euro area economy remains mired in unemployment in much of the zone. The Spanish economy has improved a bit but one in five are still out of work. The Greeks are living with one in four out of work. In Greece one in two young people are out of a job and youth unemployment is still at 45% in Spain. Greece needs to borrow more to keep going. The European authorities and the IMF want Greece to make further cuts to pensions, and to press on with privatisations that many Greeks oppose.
The ECB has now set negative interest rates and is offering more cheap money to the commercial banks. All the time it also needs them to raise more cash and capital, which acts as brake on credit expansion. The Greek banks received extra capital in the last bail out package, but were damaged by the last Greek euro crisis.
The Greek crisis has not gone away. The recent flare up with the IMF is over the need for a longer term solution. The IMF appears to think Greece will need debt restructuring, a polite way of saying some of Greece’s large outstanding state debt has to be written off or put onto easier terms. The IMF also argues that there need to be more cuts all the time Greece is struggling with the present interest burden on her debts. It takes more reductions in public spending, more sales of public assets and more tax revenue, given the magnitude of interest charges and the future debt repayment burden.
We may be about to see a re-run of well rehearsed arguments and tensions. Germany is reluctant to give Greece more money, German electors are not in a giving mood. Any write off of debt burdens means in effect that money advanced to Greece by Germany and others ceases to be a loan and becomes a grant. Meanwhile Greece has a new argument to deploy in opposing austerity. The arrival of large numbers of migrants in Greece coupled with closing of borders to the north leaves Greece with substantial financial obligations to cater for the refugees and migrants. If Greece is to house and feed these people on behalf of the Schengen area and the wider EU, shouldn’t she be allowed some relaxation of the financial constraints?
To many in the rest of the EU the UK referendum is an unwelcome distraction from these big problems that swirl around the single currency. Wouldn’t the UK’s exit help the rest concentrate on the problems their currency scheme has created?