As the Eurozone debt crisis threatens banks and potentially the global economy, former German central banker Axel Weber said he “fears” financial conditions will have to deteriorate more in Europe before leaders take “drastic action.”
Meanwhile, he said, “Europe needs to improve the probability of successful crisis management.”
Speaking at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Weber said policy makers need the political cover of an emergency to take action. “Things have to get worse before they get better,” he said. “If you act swiftly in the middle of a crisis people” appreciate the need for urgent action.
He described recent Greece bailout measures as “an attempt to kick the can down the road,” but added “If Europeans don’t react the markets will get worse. Pressure from the bond market is already there. Investors want to hear a convincing story why they should buy new bonds.”
As investors remain reluctant, governments must pay high interest rates or offer guarantees so struggling countries can get the funds needed to operate.
Weber is a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He was the president of the Deutsche Bundesbank and a member of the governing council of the European Central Bank between 2004 and 2011.
“The debt problems of countries like Greece have become a problem for all the other countries” in the Eurozone, he said. Even France has been impacted, and along with Germany it is critical to the core of the union. Weber said resolution of the financial crisis is complicated because in the Eurozone there is “no common view of the origins of the crisis or solution.”
While he said he thinks “they can save the union,” the long-term structure needs to be altered. Weber said it is deficient because it merely revolves around a common currency. Because there are no common rules about how much countries can spend or tax, each country has behaved independently while still enjoying the benefits of the euro. Those less frugal can impact those that have been more disciplined.
Weber noted, that Germany has remained competitive globally through practices such as keeping wage increases at about two percent, while Greece has failed to compete and grow because the country has increased pay about four percent.
Ultimately, Weber thinks there must be shared fiscal practices so that some countries don’t spend excessively and rely on more frugal companies to provide aid later. He envisions a two tiered system with the current Eurozone “a training ground” for countries that wish to get into a fiscal union with standards for stability.
But, he said, that “is not around the corner” and will take years to get there.
Meanwhile, the bailout has had a sharp impact on Germany, already. Weber said a couple of years ago Germany’s debt to GDP was a sound 64 percent. But two years into the bailouts of countries on the periphery of Europe, debt has jumped to 84 percent of GDP. Weber said in the past it would have taken 15 years for debt to mount so dramatically.
“The numbers are moving up fast,” he said.
If Germany were to guarantee the debt for the European Union, Germany’s debt would be 320 percent of GDP. “Germany would no longer be a triple A country,” said Weber.
While hedge fund manager George Soros and others have suggested that issuing Eurobonds would be a solution, Weber said that “would do more harm than good.”
All countries would be responsible for guaranteeing the debts of others, and Eurobonds would bring the cost of borrowing down for all, said Weber. Eurobonds, he said, could lead some countries to borrow easily, and ignore their debts without “better fiscal behavior. They would lead to more debt and more risk.”
Weber said Europe’s problems never should have come to this point. Rather, he said, investors in Greek bonds should have written them down long ago. Bond investors are supposed to know when they invest that they are assuming the risk, he said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times