Risk of a full-blown crisis is serious for Europe and for the rest of the world

Demonstration after the elections
in Greece.
(Photo: Popicinio_01/Flickr/CC)

The economic crisis in Europe is deepening and may get worse, with worrisome effects on the rest of the world, warned Martin Khor, executive director of South Centre, in his most recent column for The Star, one of the leading Malaysian newspapers.

“The spreading crisis throws into doubt the policies in most European countries that have in recent years focused on drastically cutting government spending to reduce the budget deficit in an attempt to pacify investors and enable a continued flow of loans,” wrote the expert.

Khor’s column reads as follows:


Crisis in Europe will affect the rest of the world
By Martin Khor

The economic situation in Europe has worsened considerably this month, giving rise to a very worrisome situation.

The ramifications of a full-blown crisis are serious not only for Europe but also the rest of the world.

The recent Greek elections saw the citizens proclaiming their anger towards the austerity policies tied to the European-IMF bail-out package, by repudiating the two major parties and giving the small anti-austerity Syriza party second place.

The elections came in the midst of a greatly deteriorating condition. Greece has 22% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, GNP is falling steeply, and public debt will remain high at 160% of GDP next year despite the recent bailout and debt-restructuring measures.

The leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, who swept to the forefront of Greek politics on the wind of protest against the austerity measures imposed by creditors, wants to re-negotiate the terms of the bailout.

He thinks his insistence on this will eventually force the creditors to change the terms, with Greece remaining in the Eurozone.

But many analysts think that the response to this demand from the EU and IMF would be to stop further loans and force Greece to exit the Euro. In a second election in mid-June, Syriza is expected to do even better and a messy Greek loan default and Euro exit are now seen as more than just possible.

In a Eurozone exit, Greece would re-introduce a local currency, and after Greeks change from their Euros, a depreciation of the new currency is expected to happen.

News report indicate that some capital flight from Greece is already taking place, as Greeks fear that their present Euro-denominated assets would lose value after conversion to the local currency.

Meanwhile, Spain was last week desperately trying to avoid a run on banks after the government was forced to partly nationalise Bankia, the second largest bank, followed by rumours of such a run.

The value of bad loans held by the banking sector rose one third in the past year to 148 billion Euro and Moody’s downgraded the credit rating of many Spanish banks.

The Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos said the battle for the Euro is going to be waged in Spain, implying his country is now in front in trying to prevent the Greek crisis from infecting other European countries and bringing down the Euro.

The spreading crisis throws into doubt the policies in most European countries that have in recent years focused on drastically cutting government spending to reduce the budget deficit in an attempt to pacify investors and enable a continued flow of loans.

This reversed the coordinated policy of fiscal reflation that the G20 leaders agreed on in 2009 to counter the global crisis. It contributed to the rapid recovery.

Since then economists and politicians alike have been debating the merits of Keynesian reflationary policies versus a resumption of IMF-type fiscal austerity.

The movement towards recession in Europe as a whole and deep falls in GNP in bail-out countries like Greece has boosted the arguments of the Keynesians.

But key leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of Britain are still convinced of the need to stick to austerity.

The victory of the new French President Francois Hollande and the stunning polls performance of the Syriza party in Greece indicate that the public wind has shifted radically against austerity, and that a change may be on the cards.

The stopping of loans to Greece would lead to an economic collapse, with government debt default, bank runs, re-denomination of local contracts to local currency and default on external contracts denominated in euro, in a scenario painted last week by specialized journalist Martin Wolf in the Financial Times.

A Greek exit could trigger bank runs and capital flight in Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain and beyond, causing collapse in asset prices and large GNP falls.

A decisive European response is needed, such as the European Central Bank providing unlimited loans to replace money taken out in bank runs, capping of interest rates on sovereign debt, Eurobonds and abandoning austerity-centred policies.

But if these policies are not taken, the Eurozone may disintegrate, with one study suggesting GNP falls on 7% to 13% in various countries, and if a full Eurozone break up takes place there could be a freeze in the financial system, a collapse in spending and trade, many lawsuits and Europe facing a situation of political limbo.

The impact on the world would be worse than the Lehman collapse. Though the implication is that this should not be allowed, a Greek exit would greatly increase the likelihood of these dangers.

If Greece leaves, the Eurozone will have to change fundamentally but if that is impossible, large crises will be repeated in a nightmare.

There would have to be a choice between a stronger union of European countries (which many do not like) or endless crises in future, or a break up now. No good choices exist, concludes Wolf.

The scenarios and predictions detailed above in the Wolf article are pessimistic, but may also be realistic not only because of the current economic situation, but also the apparent lack of conditions for a political solution.

Watching from the sidelines, with no ability to influence developments, many in the developing countries are disturbed by the turn of events. It will likely lead to a weakening of the global economy at best and a full blown crisis at worst, with the developing countries at the receiving end in terms of trade downturn, financial reverberations, and declining incomes and jobs.

It is apparent, once again, that a global forum should exist where all countries can discuss developments in the global economy and contribute their views on what needs to be done.

In the inter-connected world, policies and events in one part (especially in the core countries) affect all others.

The Star (Malaysia): http://bit.ly/KKWILb