Ben Chu: This was not the crisis summit... the worst is yet to come

01.02.2012 10:28

 Independent: Greece was not a focus here but it still loomed large, as the Athens government continued to haggle with its creditors.
For once, this was not billed as a summit to save the eurozone. We have had so many of those in recent months that officials presumably decided the eurozone could do with a break from being saved.

Instead, eurozone leaders were trying to put flesh on previous agreements, in the hope that the financial markets would see some action being taken by governments.

Eurozone states have signed up to the new "fiscal compact", agreeing to keep their budgets more or less in balance. Given David Cameron's hard line deficit reduction policies at home, it is ironic he felt unable to sign up for this austerity club. Ironic, too, that other non-eurozone members states, led by Poland, spent much of yesterday struggling to ensure they were not shut out of this circle of fiscal discipline, which some economists argue will make the eurozone still more, not less, unstable.

The reality is that this new pan-European architecture falls well short of the sort of fiscal union that markets want to see. It promises to be a system of fiscal rules, without the promise of money transfers to struggling states to help them deliver on their commitments. It is all stick and no carrot – and thus lacks credibility.

There was a small concession to Keynesian demand stimulus yesterday in the release of money from the European Union budget to increase the number of jobs for young people. But any good that such funds does will be swamped by the contractionary economic forces that Germany is still unleashing across Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland. It remains to be seen whether the fiscal pact will result in the Irish government staging a referendum, which may yet derail the whole train.

And what about the enhanced eurozone "firewall" that everyone has been demanding? It was agreed that the European Stability Mechanism will be implemented later this year. But it remains unclear whether the fund will be boosted in size, with extra guarantees from governments. Germany, the crucial nation in this crisis, still seems to be refusing to loosen its purse strings.

Greece was not a focus here but it still loomed large in Brussels, as the Athens government continued to haggle with its private-sector creditors over a crucial debt write-down.

There were also ominous signs that the dreaded contagion has begun. Yesterday's spike in Portugal's market borrowing costs showed investors are now betting that Lisbon will follow Athens down the road to selective default.

It was wise of officials not to label this the decisive summit of this crisis. Everyone knows there will be plenty more to come.