Thursday, 27 October 2011

Dazzling numbers obscure real eurozone deal

Another day, another eurozone rescue.

We have, of course, been here before. Today's deal is similarly long on rhetoric and short on detail, but that won't prevent the markets bouncing and the media once again reporting that the crisis is solved.

Yet, in a few weeks time, they will again all realise that the latest 'solution' is far from that at all.

Just as happened back in July, many crucial details of the deal are yet to emerge and have the capacity to cause a rapid unravelling.

How exactly the European Financial Stability Facility will be leveraged from its remaining €250 billion to an extraordinary €1 trillion (£880bn) - whether by the provision of risk insurance or a special purpose investment fund into which countries like China and the Gulf states will be asked to contribute - will not be revealed until the end of next month.

Similarly, will banks be able to find the required extra €106bn in capital? And whether
private investors will actually swap their Greek bonds for those with a 50% repayment reduction also remains to be seen.

According to the BBC's Robert Peston, the agreement of the banks "in principle" to slashing what Greece owes them by half came at the last minute. But yesterday's Irish Times highlights unsurprising scepticism that what is being asked of them with respect to Greece represents "an exceptional and unique solution" and does not set a precedent for what may happen should the difficulties in other countries worsen.

Investors could yet decide that the warm words of EU politicians and appointees about Greece being a special case are too wafer thin relative to the economic forces that could yet come to bear on the far bigger economies of Spain or Italy.

Even if the banks go through with the deal, many observers doubt that the resulting reduction of Greece's debt to 120% of GDP by 2020 (ie. the same as Italy's) is in any case going to lighten the country's burden sufficiently to enable a rebalancing of its economy.

Economic union

A bigger problem in how today's deal is being reported is how the media are once again too hypnotised by the glittering numbers to look at the small print.

What many are missing this time are the details under the summit conclusion headings (pdf) 'Economic and fiscal co-ordination and surveillance', 'Governance structure of the euro area' and 'Further integration' which cover the EU's growing
power-grab over taxation and how euro members run their economies.

Back in July, commentators made the same mistake. A far greater focus was applied to the new repayment terms for Greece and the possibility of increased funds for the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) than on the real gem of the package for EU leaders.

Namely, the granting of permission for EFSF money, guaranteed by eurozone members, to be used to recapitalise the worst-afflicted banks in particular countries - a responsibility that would normally have to be fulfilled by national treasuries.

Obscured integration

Again today, dazzled by completely unqualified numbers, the media are overlooking the far more significant passages of the latest deal that relate to deepening economic union, greater EU powers to interfere in the budgets of member countries and the introduction of EU taxes.

See Paragraph 27a, which says that "for euro Member States in excessive deficit procedure, the Commission and the Council will be enabled to examine national draft budgets and adopt an opinion on them before their adoption by relevant national parliaments".

Far from applying to one or two financially irresponsible cases, 13 of the 17 euro member countries are currently in the EU's excessive deficit procedure. So this represents a substantial extension of the influence of the unelected EU Commission over national parliaments with respect to the politically highly sensitive tax and spend policies of euro member countries.

Paragraph 29 goes on to discuss the "Pragmatic co-ordination of tax policies in the euro area" as a "necessary element of stronger economic policy co-ordination" and confirms that "Legislative work on the Commission proposals for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base and for a Financial Transaction Tax is ongoing."

And Paragraph 35 instructs the European Council to bring forward an "interim report" in December 2011 on "strengthening economic convergence within the euro area, improving financial discipline and deepening economic union" with a report on how to implement agreed measures including "the possibility of limited Treaty changes" due by March 2012.

Flaws not fixed

Ultimately, even if today's uncertainties pan out as the EU desires, the reality is that
this latest deal will still not be enough to cement the euro's cracks.

The reason is simple. There is no solution to the eurozone's problems other than for the most indebted countries to break the fixed exchange rate system and leave the euro, to restore competitiveness and growth to their economies. But of course, EU politicians and especially its employees refuse to let go of their flawed single currency project.

While the markets are bringing some realities to bear, the question is for how much longer can Europe's political elite get away with putting off the inevitable crunch, in the process worsening the mess they have created and now flushing almost incomprehensible sums of public money to protect the failing euro?

Friday, 7 October 2011

A Tobin tax will benefit the EU nomenklatura, not the peoples of Europe

by Marc Glendening

At the Sarkozy-Merkel mini-summit on
16 August, held to enable the French and German leaders to discuss the future of the eurozone, one of the concrete proposals that emerged was the idea of a Tobin, or ‘Robin Hood’, tax.

Sniffing a financial opportunity, Jose Manuel Barroso was on 29 September quick to reiterate the Commission’s desire to see such a tax introduced.

There is clearly a growing momentum among the EU elite to impose levies on financial transactions, a portion of which will be diverted to EU coffers. But beyond the debate concerning the efficacy or otherwise of this proposed measure, there are two other questions that need to be addressed.

First, should a Tobin tax be applied to the non-Eurozone member countries - Britain, Denmark and Sweden - as Brussels is demanding, even if the elected representatives of these countries do not want it?

And second, does it necessarily follow, should it be introduced, that a proportion of the money raised be handed over to the coffers of the European Commission, rather than for it all to go to hard-pressed national treasuries at a time of public sector cuts and tax hikes?

EU waste

Those, like the Robin Hood Tax campaign, who support this proposal in the abstract should think twice about the Sarkozy-Merkel proposal in particular. Do they really want more cash to be directed towards an organisation notorious for fraud and waste, excessively high wages and whose budget has not been cleared by the Court of Auditors for the past 16 years?

Is it right, for example, that Peter Mandelson is still drawing 50% of his annual Commission salary of £180,000 three years after leaving office in Brussels? Lord Mandelson is taxed at the EU ‘community rate’ of 26% on his earnings - why doesn’t he pay the full rate of either UK or, alternatively, Belgian taxation?

Or do the peoples of Europe really believe it is appropriate that money raised in their countries should be used to heavily subsidise the privileged, private education of the offspring of the Brussels Nomenklatura in their special European Schools?

EU fundraising

The French and German leaders in making their Tobin tax demand were in fact adding their weighty support to a proposal the Commission has long been making.

Brussels desperately wants to find new ways to raise an increasing proportion of its ever-expanding budget through taxes levied against the individual citizens of the member countries. In this way the EU elite will be able to replace national contributions with so-called ‘own resources’.

Once enough streams of direct taxation are in place, Brussels could by-pass all the tedious arm-twisting of the member state governments it currently has to undertake and just keep ramping up the levies European citizens individually have to pay.

The Commission estimates that it could raise between 31 and 50 billion euros every year on the basis of just a 0.1% tax on stocks, bonds and derivatives.

Merkel and Sarkozy are also concerned about how on earth the EU is going to be able to prevent the Eurozone from collapsing, especially since the German government is adamant that the idea of Eurobonds - whereby northern Europe would become responsible for the debts run up Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and others - is a complete non-starter.

Understandably, Angela Merkel does not want to stand for re-election in 2013 on a policy of having incorporated the German people into a permanent European debt union.

The idea of a Tobin tax, together with other ideas floated by the Commission - such as taxes on air travel, emissions-trading and the sending of emails - is much more attractive to the German chancellor because these would also be directed at citizens from Britain and the other non-Eurozone countries, as well as those from the states inside the single currency.

These new planned euro taxes are therefore a way of making three important net donor countries responsible for the cost of helping to maintain the dysfunctional euro system they have opted to stay outside of.

Cameron's challenge

David Cameron will no doubt claim that the Tobin tax and other measures cannot be applied to the UK as we will have a veto over the next tranche of powers Brussels is seeking to gain.

In the near future, the EU will attempt to re-define Article 136 of the treaty in order to help it establish ‘central economic governance’. On top of this, there might even be a new treaty.

However, it must not be forgotten that our government thought it was exempt from having to contribute to the Eurozone bail-outs and was forced under Article 122 of the Lisbon treaty to hand over £12.5 billion towards helping Ireland and Portugal. We are tied into doing this for another two years.

John Major also believed he had negotiated certain opt-outs concerning the Maestricht treaty only to discover that they were worthless once the EU had got Britain to ratify the document.

At the end of the day, it will be the Eurozone majority within the EU, backed up by the European Court of Justice, that will have the final say in interpreting what our legal obligations and exemptions are, and are not, under an elastic EU treaty open to an infinite range of interpretations.

It should be for the elected and accountable national parliaments throughout Europe to decide if they do, or do not, want a Tobin tax following rigorous debate about the pros and cons of this policy.

If it is introduced, the amount raised by hitting the bankers in this way should go exclusively to, and be spent by, those who are democratically accountable. Not remote EU figures who cannot be removed from office by the voters of the member countries.

written by Marc Glendening