The discussion on the EURO periphery difficulties continues.   What is distasteful and dishonest in it, is that at no time a reference is made to earlier mistakes in the introduction of the Euro.   Our political leaders think that looking back is unproductive and a betrayal of the European Union ideals, perhaps even of Europe in its entirety (But the two are different entities, – the one a partly untried mechanism, the other an old continent which will survive the EU, long live Norway and Switzerland).

No analysis of the introduction of the Euro is made, no appeal to Prof Mundell to see whether the present euro zone corresponded to an optimal currency zone.                        The argument continues to be: forget about the causes and the road so far gone, look only straight ahead: Avanti ! Avanti! More and more integration and federalism.                   President Giuliani of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris is one of the typical examples (note [1] )                                                                                                                       We should not proceed further on the road of building the EU jumping from crisis to crisis without reflectiuon. The past should be analyzed.

A number of the government leaders of the last three decades deserve to have their statues taken away, or to take a haircut on their pensions. On milk and cheese and wine the Commission is so meticulous in rules-setting. Why their lack of interest in proper rules for the EURO?  (Note[2] )

They introduced to Europe’s housekeepers a new  complex piece of equipment, the euro, but without giving us the………..

Owner’s Manual”

That manual should have included:

A number of WARNINGS….

  • Against filling up Greek pension funds and banks with bonds of their own government. Employees all over the world know very well that their pension funds should keep safely isolated from their company’s balance sheet: “don’t put all your eggs in one single basket” Yet was there nobody in Brussels to warn the Greek pension funds on this point? The real danger that Greek banks and funds would see their financial health destroyed is perhaps the single most important fact which blocks an overall EU solution of the bond problem, since major impairment would stop the credit system and the Greek economy. Greece, on entering the Eurozone should not only have got the owners- manual but a tough tutor.
  • Warnings should also have been in place for the other buyers of Greek (and other euro-peripheral) bonds, the European banks. Particularly in a situation where banks are still highly leveraged. Why did Societe Generale and BNP Paribas and Banque Agricole (with a participation in Bank Emporiki) buy so many? Were they attracted by a slightly higher interest differential and like Giuliani counting on the politicians to save their investment? Were they in any way pushed by our European governments, like in the USA the politicians and a lot of employers were pushing Fanny May and Freddy Mac for some electoral gain and sweet social promises of wide home ownership? (note [3]) If not that, the banks were simply negligent in due diligence and now should suffer a haircut. How much? In France Greek bonds in bank portfolios seem to be in the neighborhood of 15 bln euros. That can do not too much harm. In Germany (with Greek bond  portfolios of around euro 10 bln) it is even hardly a problem, their exposure to Greek bonds being very low.
  • Let the bank directors then bow in penitence to their shareholders and not transfer risks to the governments of their own country, let alone to the governments of other EU members where their banking colleagues were far more prudent and did not buy Greek bonds. The idea of Europe as a “transfer-union” has no merit. And the shareholders of the banks, what about them? They also need a haircut since they lacked in vigilance. Europe has the good fortune of a double structure of a managing board and a Board of Directors. The latter one has exerted too little oversight even when they had former Ministers of Finance sitting (or sleeping) with them.
  • Lacking  in the introduction of the Euro was also a proper oversight procedure. Today’s claim to appoint a “EU Minister of Finance” is extravagant and clearly aims at imposing a new major federalistic mission creep. But a credible oversight agency and due warning was entirely possible. Or if the Union thought it had not the means it could have contracted out such a job in an arrangement with the IMF. The IMF could have taken the bond position along in its usual “article IV” country missions and its subsequent reports to the public. (But, oh no! the E.U. institution builders are too proud for letting the IMF do such a thing.)
  • In view of all those lackings, let us praise Dutch finance minister Zalm who at one moment even opposed Italy’s membership in the Eurozone. Honesty is the best diplomacy. Mentioning Minister Zalm reminds us that in these questions Germany does not always stand alone. Its critics say sometimes that Germany should be “reined in” since that country goes against a “southern despise of the German attitude to work and life” (Francesco Sisci in a message from China). ”Le Monde” showed also eagerness to “exclude Germany rather than Greece” from the Eurozone (note [4]).       The feelings of Germany and Holland get now more response also in other countries (France, Austria) that a federalist solution should not be considered. Rather a true return to the subsidiarity principle must be made, and a true willingness must be shown to analyze past mistakes made by our government leaders of the last three decades.

Hopping from crisis to crisis in order to build up  ever more federalism in the European Union will be resisted by our European nations. Since our parliaments including the European parliament have been sleeping on their watch over the Euro crisis, we may need to go beyond mere representational democracy (elections for parliaments), and adopt a larger measure of direct democracy, by people-inspired referendums (note [5])

We suggest this not in a general eagerness that in all situations added democracy is the best  (note[6] ), but rather as a practical expedient in a situation where we found the representational form of democracy sleeping. A practical addition to the Euro’s “Owner’s Manual”.

Anton Smitsendonk                                     Beijing – Paris        july 18th 2011

================NOTES ======================

[1]  The Robert Schuman foundation in Paris is largely paid by the French government. Occasionally they have been doing some courageous things such as when they produced a small book on an alternative for Turkey’s accession to the EU. But when Gerard Hannezo and I went to their bureau, they hastily retreated, and said that they would not do any follow-up since they were mostly an “academic” institution. Their program is clear however: the more accessions the more federalism, the better.

[2] Valeurs actuelles La Grèce dans l’euro ? Une folie Antonis Papagiannidis. The author sees a

« Volonté de puissance par la généralisation des mécanismes fédéraux institutions européennes.  He maintains that even Jacques Delors in 1989 was aware of dangers.

[3] In 1994, Bill Clinton proposed increasing homeownership through a “partnership” between government and the private sector, principally orchestrated by Fannie Mae, a “government-sponsored enterprise” (GSE). It became a perfect specimen of what such “partnerships” (e.g., General Motors) usually involve:

Profits are private, losses are socialized. Politics is sometimes an exercise in “Compassion speak »

[4] Ce n’est pas la Grèce qu’il faut exclure, c’est l’Allemagne ! lundi 29 mars 2010,  Frédéric Lordon)’

[5] .(note: Opening also the field of international relations and EU community relations  to some fdegree of direct democracy (referendums) will need great care but could be worthwhile. The conditions for admitting referendums ould be varied according to the nature and impact of the questions: lighter access to referendums for limited and practical proposals, and stricter limits where existing treaties might be affected. Beyond the financial market questions  direct democracy might can offer something with relation to  the enlargement questions like the real weight of the so-called Copenhagen criteria, and the invitation issued to Turkey to start accession negotiations in October 2005) These matters did not get any adequate “peer review” from the public in our European nations.

=============================== =

POSTSCRIPT: ABIDING FAITH IN EUROPE AND THE EUROPEAN UNION   If on this occasion, like at other times “Voices-of-Europe” expresses a criticism, it is about the methods followed in strengthening Europe, and not a lack of commitment to our continent  Often cavalier methods were imposed from above, (the “constitution” and its sequels) projects were pushed forward without sufficient reflection. (the “Euro” is a case in point.)

But we still are strongly committed to Europe, its traditions and its future.and interested in strengthening its diplomatic world posture  in the world (though on that point too we have proposed alternatives). Rather than retaking  sovereingty for our individual states, let us rather apply the subsidiarity principle in the European Union, but then along the whole line from top to bottom. Our “identitarian”  friends like Fabrice Robert in France who are so strong defenders of regional and even local identity are yet fully interested in strengthening Europe.:  Note Fabrice Robert notes:  Répétons-le toujours et encore, si l’on aime la France et l’on veut qu’elle survive, l’on doit se battre pour l’unité européenne et l’affirmation de notre continent comme une puissance politique indépendante.

Other movements on a wider scale in and outside Europe, for instance n the Americas and elsewhere stress also the need to strengthen units at ocal levels, mostly the families.Yet they too are capable of solidarity at higher and world levels. (for instance Tradition, Family and Property,TFP,

Local and global action need not be seen as opposite, they are all part of the total range which obeys laws of “subsidiarity”



About dutasia

Former Ambassador of the Netherlands, presently National Commissioner for Thailand and for Indonesia in the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Organization. Chairman of China Carbon Forum in Beijing, China.
This entry was posted in Business, democracy, EUROPE, EUROPEAN UNION, Finance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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