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April 13, 2018

German support for eurozone reform next to zero...

The eurozone reforms are in real political trouble in Germany. The SPD is losing interest, and the CDU/CSU is becoming openly hostile. We think that the new co-chairwoman of the German Green Party, Annalena Baerbock, put her finger on the SPD's rapidly diminishing interesting in eurozone reforms. She is quoted by Handelsblatt as saying:

"Since Martin Schulz is gone, one has the sense that the eurozone chapter of the coalition agreement has been closed, unread."

As the paper writes in a separate report, Olaf Scholz has hardened his line on the European deposit insurance Scheme (Edis), while FAZ reports that Angela Merkel is losing the backing of her own party. We are basically back to the position where we have been throughout the eurozone crisis. A chancellor who is willing in principle to engage but constrained by the conservatives in her party, and a coalition partner who could not care less.

Handelsblatt notes that Scholz has reverted to Wolfgang Schauble's line that there is no point in discussing the European deposit insurance scheme until the banking risks are eliminated. As we noted before, those who make this statement are never explicit about how they define the risk, or which thresholds of risk metrics they propose. The paper writes that Scholz does not see Edis as a priority project for the eurozone right now. The paper also quotes that deputy leader of the CDU group in the Bundestag, Ralph Brinkhaus, as saying:

"a European deposit insurance is very, very, very far away."

FAZ has further details about the CDU's emerging total opposition on Emmanuel Macron's reforms. They reject flat-out all the three areas of reform: no single EU budget, no reform of the ESM, and no deposit insurance. And the even more far-reaching proposals by the European Commission were dismissed as totally unacceptable. The paper also quotes Brinkhaus as reiterating a point we have been making before: because of the new majority situation in the Bundestag, Merkel's room for manoeuvre is much smaller now than it was during the previous coalition. He recalled that 60 CDU/CSU MPs refused to back the Greek package. The current coalition would not be able to survive a rebellion of similar scale. 

In this context we noted that Germany also seems to maintain its tough stance in the technical talks over debt relief for Greece, insisting on strong terms and conditions in return for debt relief according to Kathimerini. The IMF and France reject this conditionality, arguing that it would amount to another programme. Euclid Tsakalotos is in Berlin today, to find out Scholz' intentions. 

The CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag is also extremely sceptical of any attempts to weaken the national control of the ESM. The current ESM treaty already allows member states to increase lending capacity if needed. And he also sees no need for an EU budget to feather asymmetric economic shocks. He notes that there is a loss of trust about anything new, out of fear that this might lead to a transfer union at the end of the process.

The only issue on which the CDU/CSU group is ready to compromise is on a fiscal backstop forf the single resolution fund. But, again, this comes with the usual Godot-style preamble that the risks in the banking system have to be reduced. 

Finally, we noted that Jens Weidmann supports the same line almost verbatim. He said the issue for the Germans on deposit insurance is a fundamental refusal to accept any shared responsibility for legacy risks.

Here is a note to our French readers. It is a total illusion to think that it is possible to persuade Germany of the benefits of eurozone reforms. These issues have been discussed - and rejected - in Germany since the 1980s. Nothing has changed. The German system will only ever react to a crisis, or an outright threat.

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April 13, 2018

... and no support for France on Syria either

Just think of the dynamics. In the previous story we noted that the Bundestag may reject the guts of the proposals to reform the eurozone. As Angela Merkel made clear yesterday, Germany will also revert to its usual default position of not engaging in any military action in Syria. Theresa May, meanwhile, received backing from her cabinet yesterday to do just that. The UK, as it turns out, may be turning into a more reliable strategic partner for Emmanuel Macron than Germany. These developments could have big implications for Brexit, but also for the discussions about the future of the EU.

The Times reports this morning that a co-ordinated US-led military action is expected to happen within three days as the largest US air and naval strike force since the Iraq war was headed towards Syria. Nouvel Observateur makes the point that the reason why Macron and Donald Trump align their position on Syria is a desire to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, who did not intervene after the first chemical attack in Syria in 2013. But the two nations have a very different stance on Iran. Also, how will Macron explain his politics to the Europeans? 

Merkel said yesterday that she supported Germany's allies, but that Germany would stay clear of any military engagement. We agree with the rather depressing assessment of Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck):

"Germany not in the business of military intervention. If pressed it supports allies."

It is interesting to note that this position is defended even by the most conservative German political commentators. Bert­hold Koh­ler writes in FAZ that the world is now in a similar position to where it was during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He notes that Merkel is acting rationally because the last thing she needs is another mass migration of Syrians. Another problem for Germany is the total and utter lack of readiness of its decrepit armed forces. Kohler noted dryly that it was not clear what military contribution Germany could make.

His colleague Klaus-Dieter Frankberger makes a separate, but related, point about the report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on the Skripal attack. The agency's backing of the UK's position on the novichok nerve agent should give the pro-Russian apologists in Germany a pause for thought, he notes, adding that they should at the very least acknowledge the facts outlined in the report. 

We would add to this that there is a part of the German political class that is more distrustful of the UK than of Russia. German involvement in military action in Syria could bring this conflict of loyalties into the open, which is another reason why Merkel wants to avoid any sabre-rattling.

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April 13, 2018

A French sermon

In this crucial moment of his presidency Emmanuel Macron appeared in front of a primary school classroom to explain to the French in an interview with TF1 that reforms are made in the interest of all, and that all need to contribute to help France to transform. He addressed the grievances of pensioners and rural areas, the two constituencies where he polls the lowest, and reassured that he is not a president of the rich but the president of all. To pensioners, many of whom have to pay more taxes to fund a drop in business charges, he was saying thank you for helping France get back on track. To motorists who are outraged about the government's plans of reducing the speed limit from 90 to 80km/h on countryside, roads Macron made the concession to scrap the measure if it does not work. 

Not giving in one inch on the reforms he put himself on the front line, also not mentioning the government once. He reassured viewers that the SNCF will remain a company with 100% public capital, and that the state will take over the SNCF debt of €50bn in part, progressively. He played down the students' occupation of university campuses against the education reforms, as mobilising only a few organised by professionals of disorder. 

The interview was long and extensive. It provoked mockery and criticism of substance and form, on the right as on the left. The leader of the Republicans in the senate, Bruno Retailleau, complained: 

"The President of the Republic came to tell the French that he was right about everything, that he knew everything and that the worried French did not understand anything. And that will not change his plans. In the classroom setting, he took his audience for children.

Many twitterers also mocked the classroom setting, one of them saying only Macron can talk about bombing Syria in a classroom. A second TV interview will follow at prime time on Sunday, when he will be grilled by presenters from the left and the right.

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April 13, 2018

Why the euro endures

Why does the eurozone enjoy so much political support, yet it is not an optimal currency area, and economically unlikely to be sustainable in its present form? Ognian Hishow and Pawel Tokarski of the German Institute for International and Political affairs set out to answer these questions in a series of working papers coauthored with Miguel Otero-Iglesias and Federico Steinberg of the Elcano Royal Institute in Spain.

Hishow defines the eurozone crisis as one of diverging current account balances and inflation rates. Despite the social cost, the strategy of rebalancing through austerity and internal devaluation was successful in forcing convergence, but only on these two key metrics, current account and inflation. 

Otero looks at the political economy of why the euro persists. A depoliticised, rules-based monetary construction was expedient for Europe's political leaders at the time the euro was created. Theoretically this view was founded on the optimal currency area theory and a metallist conception of money as medium of exchange. A chartalist conception of money as unit of account requires a political authority, and its absence is a problem. The problem was only solved by Mario Draghi's whatever-it-takes pledge and Merkel's personal interventions, but political integration has stalled since 2012 and Merkel has legitimacy as Germany's leader but not Europe's. 

Steinberg looks at the way support for the common currency in the southern countries, notably Spain, Portugal, and Greece, is rooted in a broader perception of European integration as contributing to the countries' modernity, and the experience of dictatorship in living memory. Italy is an exception to this among southern countries which probably explains why support for the euro is so low in the country, making it the weakest link in the monetary union.

Tokarski looks at the reasons why support for the euro in the northern countries remains strong. Northern here is defined by a large reliance on foreign trade. In the case of the Baltic states there was also a geopolitical consideration that joining the euro would ensure eurozone political support for them in their conflicts with Russia. 

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