Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The European Union: It's a Question of Leadership

The dust is clearing around the recent negotiations in Europe concerning the “bailout” bill and what we are seeing, at least to me, is unnerving.

“France has won!” (“Paris seen as trumping Berlin at EU table” at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4fbef0b4-5d5e-11df-8373-00144feab49a.html)

“The French government yesterday vowed to ‘reinvent the European model.” (“Sarkozy triumphs in his bid to rewrite the rules” at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f2666c76-5d5d-11df-8373-00144feab49a.html)

The press has predominantly been following German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the past month or so as she struggled to achieve a “German” twist to the negotiations concerning the fate of Greece and the bailout package that was needed to keep the EU together.

Many in Germany did not like what her leadership has achieved as people voted against her party last Sunday making it ever so much more difficult for her to lead her nation.

Sarkozy, the president of France, kept a very low profile…for him.

And, who seems to have come out on top? France!

France’s intent? To build a new structure with greater budgetary policy co-ordination and more effective fiscal rules. In essence, to follow the French model, allowing the spenders to spend and the savers to pay for what the spenders are spending on.

The start is a vast loan facility to distribute cash quickly to “a stricken member” without prior approval from other national governments…especially Berlin! (However, the current effort is to last only three years, but once begun…)

Also, Sarkozy is said to be very happy with the decision of the European Central Bank to start buying euro-zone government debt. This is a massive step toward “Quantitative Easing” something the ECB had been constantly resisting.

The ECB has been “Bernankied”!

This shift in policy direction is seen by Sarkozy as “irreversible” and puts France in the driver’s seat.

In my mind, this “victory” just exacerbates the “race to the bottom” (See “How the euro-zone set off a race to the bottom” at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5d666d5a-5c69-11df-93f6-00144feab49a.html.)

The feeling in Germany? The newspaper Bild Zeitung puts is very simply: "The 'safety parachute' for the euro is the ultimate crime for Europe. We Germans have made sacrifices for a stable euro for the last 10 years, with wage restraint and sacrificing pension rises. We have paid the price while others have been partying at our expense . . . Europe's path to a transfer union is simply a road to its ruin."

And, what direction are you betting the euro will go?

This whole muddle returns to the question of leadership and in Europe.

Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone there that I would call a real leader.

In terms of the leadership at central banks, the head of a central bank can only go so far in achieving a monetary policy independent of the party that rules a nation.

NOTE: Check out what recently happened to the head of the central bank in Argentina!

Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve System have never acted independently of the presidential administration in Washington, D. C. whether it was the Bush 43 administration or the Obama administration.

The only show of independence that Bernanke and the Fed has made is to keep the Congress from conducting an audit of them.

Alan Greenspan was the lackey of whoever was in the White House.

This is why the financial markets expect that sooner or later massive governmental deficits will be monetized. Central banks cannot forever “hold out” against a government that wants to continue to live way beyond its means.

And, because of this Jean-Claude Trichet should not be judged too harshly. The “profligates” are in charge and a central banker can only fight back so hard. At least if they want to keep their high profile position.

So, we go back to the victory that France has achieved. If people were uncertain over the future of the European Union and the future of the euro, in my mind a lot of that uncertainty has been removed.

The major uncertainties now relate to when the periodic financial upheavals are going to take place, how severe they will be, and how long it will take for a European leadership to arise that will have had enough of the “race to the bottom”?

Weak leadership always caves in to the popular short run viewpoint!

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