A Tale of Two Euros - July 2011
The Eurosceptic in me is dying to say 'I told you so'. But as we watch the painful failure of linking so many divergent economies in Europe with one common currency, the reality is that the challenges faced by the Eurozone countries can only damage Britain in the short to medium term. It may be true that the sceptics always said that in a shrinking economic environment the Eurozone would fail, but that doesn't mean that current events are generating warm and fuzzy feelings. The reality of the risks to the global economy are too dreadful. A failure of the weaker countries within the zone, and the consequent collapse of the bond and equity markets will have a profound impact on our economy too. So what do we do?
We need the economies of Portugal, Greece, Ireland and maybe Spain to find a way to stimulate growth, and with domestic interest rates at current lows the only rational option is for these countries to devalue - an impossibility whilst the Euro is the currency that also values the German and French economies. The reality is that to service even more borrowing Greece is going to have to apply up to 15 or even 20% of its GDP on debt repayment: the idea is too ridiculous and the Euro Finance Ministers have to stop the fantasy now.
The answer surely is to split the Euro, to create a Euro North and a Euro South. A free floating Euro South would be able to devalue (it would do so instantly and what I wonder would it be worth?), and float against the Euro North (could we call that the NEURO?). The impact would be immediate. Exports, investment opportunities and labour, and of course even tourism would be more realistically priced overnight. The Euro South economies would have a chance to grow. The more stable Euro North would be able to offer support to the Southern Euro through the existing institutions of the ECB and the larger economies would be far more likely to invest in sovereign debt instruments if they were realistically priced in a currency that reflected their true value, rather than trading at 50% of their face value as they are reported to be doing now.
I'm afraid that the meeting of European Finance Ministers is likely to see the available options in terms of greater monetary and fiscal union, and continue to damage the currency that values the northern economies of Europe. No doubt we will have another short-term fix at a massive cost to Europe's economies, and to the banks that were foolish enough to invest in Southern Europe's bonds (in some cases under great political pressure). It must though be time to put some serious thought into other more creative options: splitting the Euro and offering long term support to a free floating Southern Euro seems to me to be a sensible idea to start with.