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July 09, 2018

German panic about Target2

The German debate on the balances of the Target2 payment clearing system continues to rage. There are two reasons for this. On the one hand, the Bundesbank's Target2 credit with the Eurosystem was over €976bn at the end of June, and is within weeks of exceeding the symbolic figure of one trillion. On the other hand, Germans have taken notice of Paolo Savona's plan B for Italy to exit the euro, which involved defaulting on Italy's external debt including its Target2 balance which is under €481bn and growing.

In this context Peter Boehringer, the AfD MP and chair of the Bundestag's budget committee, has criticised Olaf Scholz in a budget debate for making no risk provisions for the possibility of default on Target2 claims. Frankfurter Allgemeine has also spoken to Christian Dürr, the deputy leader of the FDP group in the Bundestag, who says it's about time the finance minister put on the political agenda the threat of a default on the German taxpayer. The position of the CDU group is that the situation will correct itself because of the coming end of the ECB's asset purchase programme, and trust in the eurozone's southern states returning as a result of the ongoing economic recovery.

But the FAZ insists that something needs to be done. Should the Target2 claims - currently undated, unsecured, and paying no interest - be backed by assets? How could Target2 balances be remunerated when the ECB's deposit rate is negative? And can politics interfere with how the ECB organises its payment clearing system without violating its independence?

That's all well and good, but the article is littered with gross inaccuracies and misunderstandings that frame the German debate on Target2.

Let's start with FAZ' observation that the Italian central bank does not have enough gold and reserves to back the German claims. This implies that the Italian Target2 debit is owed to Germany. But any intra-day Target2 balances between the Italian and German central bank are netted out, and become claims between the national central banks and the ECB. What the German conservatives are ultimately pushing for is either that the ECB pledge assets as security to the Bundesbank, or that Italy secures its debit with the Eurosystem.

But there's also the delirious claim that Target2, as a payment settlement system, actually allows Italians, Spaniards and Greeks to buy real estate, firms and bonds in Germany without money created at home at home either through a sale of goods and services or credit from their commercial bank. This is nonsense of the highest order. A payment clearing and settlement system does not magically allow payments to go through if the payer has no money in their account and no available credit line. FAZ implies that Target2 forces the Bundesbank to grant credit at zero interest to southerners. In actual fact, the only credit that the Bundesbank grants in the context of Target2 is to other central banks intra-day, and to the ECB on an ongoing basis. If Italians - or Spaniards, or Greeks - are buying stuff in Germany, it's because they either had the balance in their bank account or their local bank granted them credit. It this is wrong the fault lies with the Single Supervisory Mechanism, not with Target2. 

We keep wondering whether the German economists and MPs that FAZ talks to are actually advocating that the Bundesbank stop clearing incoming payments from Italy. This, by the way, is basically what the Greek capital controls amount to. But those were the result of ballooning emergency liquidity assistance from the Greek central bank to its commercial banks. That is, the locus of the lack of trust was the Greek private banks. What we're talking about here is to shut out the Bank of Italy from the Eurosystem. 

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July 09, 2018

AfD level with SPD

The latest Emnid poll in Germany gives two messages. The parties of the grand coalition no longer have a majority. Together they get 47%. We see that trend as likely to persist, leading to a structural shift towards multi-party coalitions similarly to what is happening in the Netherlands.

The other interesting aspect is the inexorable decline of the SPD. It now polls at 17%, the same level as the AfD, and only barely ahead of the Green Party, which has 12%. CDU/CSU are also weak but still holding up at 30%. The recent government crisis has clearly affected their figures, but probably not by much.  

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July 09, 2018

How the EU could fail

There is no doubt that the combination of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise of populism in EU member states constitutes a clear and present threat to the EU.

In his FT column Wolfgang Munchau argues that the EU needs to respond to Trump by setting as priorities the two issues that give rise to the transatlantic crisis. The first is the eurozone's large and still-growing current-account surplus. The second is the extraordinary low rates of military spending by three of the EU largest member states: Germany, Italy and Spain. The point is not to appease Trump, but to address the two areas where the EU is at its most vulnerable. The EU is over-reliant on the US for defence. Any meaningful European defence capability would require convergence in military spending among EU member states. And the current-account surpluses make the EU vulnerable to trade sanctions by foreign powers. Munchau notes Germany lies at the heart of both problems, but the solution must be European. This should have a higher priority now than fixing the eurozone. If the EU fails to address this, as Munchau believes it might, more and more people will start to question the value of the EU itself.

We also noted an interesting and related comment by Hans Vollaard, who did some thinking about the dynamics of how the EU could collapse. It would not happen in a big bang, but through a slow decline. It would happen in a way that one could never tell whether the EU had in fact disintegrated. He draws on the work of three academics who have gone to the trouble of building a model specifically for this purpose. Disintegration would occur at the different levels. Companies could withdraw from the EU by moving outside. Member states could exit, but he notes that, beyond Brexit, a full exit of member states is unlikely because of a lack of viable alternatives. However there may be partial exits - in the form of refusing to engage in risk-sharing in a monetary union, non-compliance with EU law, lower budget contributions, and demands to renationalise competences. Some of this is clearly happening already. These partial exits produce a self-fulfilling prophecy, by weakening the EU and making it less effective.

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  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • March 31, 2020
  • Orbán's power grab
  • Why we would like to share the optimism on eurobonds, but can’t.
  • September 30, 2019
  • A pyrrhic victory for Kurz
  • Will there really be UK elections?
  • April 01, 2019
  • Meaningful IV
  • Caputová elected: a turning point for central Europe?
  • October 02, 2018
  • Whatever it takes - diesel version
  • Is Macron's European discourse too simplistic?
  • April 06, 2018
  • Schleswig Holstein collapses Spain's strategy against Catalan separatism
  • On the implausibility of conspiracy theories in the Skripal case
  • October 09, 2017
  • UK is starting to prepare for a no-deal Brexit
  • Why Germany will resist meaningful eurozone reform
  • April 12, 2017
  • Macro in a state of denial
  • Where Schulz is vulnerable
  • Schäuble’s three party tricks
  • October 17, 2016
  • Ceta is dead for now
  • L’après-Hollande, c'est Hollande
  • SPD against Russia sanctions
  • Nissan to join customs union and other fanciful tales
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • July 20, 2020
  • What will happen on January 1
  • March 09, 2020
  • Lockdown measures are not working
  • Will the ceasefire hold in Idlib?
  • October 27, 2019
  • German political centre is melting
  • Train drivers in all-out confrontation with Macron
  • Erdogan makes threats again
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • February 04, 2019
  • Watch out for the resurgence in Tory unity
  • The gilets-jaunes' effect on the European elections
  • What did he possibly mean by that?
  • September 27, 2018
  • Two ways out of the Brexit impasse
  • May 22, 2018
  • A €60bn ESM credit line - is this what they call a backstop?
  • Will Nato survive Trump?
  • Northern Ireland's Brexit disillusion
  • Would Corbyn become prime minister if he accepted the single market?
  • January 15, 2018
  • Is the section on Europe for real?
  • Can Drahos upset Zeman?
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • May 08, 2017
  • A message of hope
  • Barnier's not so easily agreed Brexit principles
  • The rebirth of the paranoid conspiracy theory
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • August 24, 2016
  • Towards a hard Brexit
  • Is there a pact of Ventotene?
  • La rentrée
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • September 25, 2020
  • Regional revolt against new lockdown measures
  • August 17, 2020
  • How Putin could divide the EU over Belarus
  • The impossible mission of forming a federal government in Belgium
  • July 01, 2020
  • Macron's executive - obstacle or enforcer?
  • New low in transatlantic relations
  • May 26, 2020
  • French fashion stores - lockdown is one crisis too many
  • An important German supreme court ruling against VW
  • Public scrutiny over lockdown rules
  • April 20, 2020
  • What if we are wrong?
  • March 16, 2020
  • Why many of the Covid-19 statistics are misleading
  • February 10, 2020
  • A new era in Irish politics with Sinn Féin
  • More fish, please
  • January 06, 2020
  • A decade that started with a bang
  • What to expect of Spain's next government
  • Divide et impera: Macron's pension reform strategy
  • November 29, 2019
  • Macron is doubling down on his Nato stance
  • France accuses Europeans of free riding in the Sahel
  • Beware of the empty chair
  • October 30, 2019
  • When conservatives try an insurrection - CDU edition
  • It could not happen here
  • October 01, 2019
  • AfD now going for the climate change deniers
  • Tancos - a game changer in Portugal's election?
  • September 02, 2019
  • Prorogation already served its purpose - events will come to a head this week
  • EU citizens in the UK are the biggest victims of no-deal Brexit
  • August 05, 2019
  • No deal first, elections later
  • Free movement of labour? Not for politicians
  • Europe already lost the digital battle
  • July 09, 2019
  • What the UK polls are telling us - and what not
  • June 13, 2019
  • On the large and rising risk of a no-deal Brexit
  • Unite and divide - Act II of Edouard Philippe
  • May 20, 2019
  • Far right on the march
  • A plot against the EU - a new weapon to stop Le Pen?
  • April 24, 2019
  • May's final and biggest gamble
  • Will the EP be Brexit's great parliamentary beneficiary?
  • Can Loiseau fight the far right given her past?
  • April 01, 2019
  • Meaningful IV
  • Caputová elected: a turning point for central Europe?
  • March 11, 2019
  • Ask what Europe can do for Germany - AKK's EU manifesto
  • February 18, 2019
  • How the splits on the left and the right will affect Brexit
  • January 28, 2019
  • Battle of the amendments
  • How the Prespes deal affects the next Greek elections
  • January 07, 2019
  • What to look out for in the Brexit debates
  • Macron's last-resort tool for the gilets jaunes
  • December 21, 2018
  • Not just Brexit makes 2019 a year of EU uncertainty
  • Sentiment is fickle, especially about sentiment
  • Father Christmas - French edition
  • King suspends Michel's resignation
  • EP has objections to the withdrawal treaty
  • Let's break the law
  • December 05, 2018
  • Unilateral Brexit revocation is possible, but only until March 29
  • French government suspends diesel tax - too little, too late?
  • Schauble supports Merz
  • November 19, 2018
  • May’s pushback is kicking in
  • November 05, 2018
  • Macron trails behind Le Pen in European elections poll
  • How the CDU will organise leadership campaign
  • October 22, 2018
  • A week of intense political tension in the UK
  • Poland's local elections reveal deeply-split country
  • October 08, 2018
  • A renewed willingness on both sides to cut a Brexit deal
  • Latvian politics in turmoil after huge populist gains
  • September 25, 2018
  • Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition
  • September 14, 2018
  • Carney warns about dramatic hard Brexit impact on housing market
  • Can Africa thrive on free trade with Europe?
  • September 05, 2018
  • May’s gamble
  • The ultimate migrant
  • August 28, 2018
  • Urban politics and national crisis - the Irish case
  • How anti-semitism became one of the main issues in British politics
  • August 20, 2018
  • ... and a subtle shift in EU policies towards both Russia and Turkey
  • Nothing to celebrate about the end of the bailout programme
  • Support for Brexit holding up
  • July 30, 2018
  • Brexit midsummer madness
  • July 25, 2018
  • Future of euro debate: can the ECB do the heavy lifting?
  • July 20, 2018
  • Why preparations for no-deal Brexit are a positive development
  • On confirmation bias in the Brexit commentary
  • July 16, 2018
  • How to think about the three Brexit options
  • How to respond to Trump
  • July 12, 2018
  • Remainers are facing an acute dilemma now
  • July 10, 2018
  • SPD now trails AfD
  • On the diplomatic fallout of Seehofer's Brexit letter
  • July 09, 2018
  • German panic about Target2
  • AfD level with SPD
  • How the EU could fail