Just because the European Debt Crisis hasn’t been in the headlines much as of late doesn’t mean it’s gone away.
Greece’s government has fallen again and they’ll be holding general elections next month. “Opinion polls point to a victory by the radical leftist Syriza party, which wants to wipe out a big part of Greece’s debt, and cancel the terms of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund that Greece still needs to pay its bills.”
The problem is that Greece wants to continue spending other people’s money to prop up a bankrupt welfare state, and the rest of Europe has decided they would really prefer to stop pouring money down that particular rathole. Syriza is against “austerity,” which is to say they oppose the Greek government even pretending to practice fiscal restraint. Because pretending is all they’ve done.
Remember, real austerity is reducing outlays until they match receipts. All those “austerity” street protests were over lowering Greece’s budget deficit from 9% of GDP to 7.5% of GDP. The rest of Europe didn’t ask them to stop digging their own grave, they just asked them to dig more slower. And this year, Greece’s budget deficit stood at 12.2% of GDP. Evidently even fake austerity is too much to ask of them; even the illusion of fiscal restraint is intolerable. This is why all news that Greece has “balanced” next year’s budget should be taken with several grains of salt.
So we’ll see another election, and if Syriza wins we’ll see another round of demands for more bailouts and debt writedowns, with Greece threatening yet again to exit the Euro. We’ve seen this movie before. The most likely outcome is that another cabal of EU-phillic insiders in the Greek government will engineer a last-minute cave-in to demands from Brussels and Frankfurt, ram another toothless austerity measure through parliament in exchange for still more credit (and perhaps even a small symbolic measure of debt forgiveness), dissolve the government again following the inevitable public outrage, then have the Greek bureaucracy ignore even those woefully inadequate reforms, setting the stage for the farce to repeat itself in another 12-18 months, or until mean old Aunt Angela finally cuts up the credit card.
Europe has had several years to acclimate itself to the fact the Greece might exit the Euro, and the possibility of a “grexit” has been priced into the markets for some time now. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of the European banking system, but my impression is that much of the “stress testing” of European banks this year was to prepare for one or more of the PIIGS leaving the Euro. I suspect that the European elite have minimized their own exposure to a Greek default (which is really all they care about), and that the EU and the European Central Bank has found new, sneaky ways to put taxpayers on the hook for any possible sovereign defaults, strengthening the banking system without addressing Europe’s long-term economic problems (unsustainable levels of debt to support cradle-to-grave welfare states for shrinking populations).
It would be great if Greece actually undertook real structural reforms of their bloated, dysfunctional government, but I see precious little evidence that they’ve actual done so. Expect more pain ahead, and at least one more bailout…