Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Finance ministers fighting to save euro

The 17 eurozone finance ministers have met in a desperate bid to save the euro - and to protect the global economy from a debt-induced financial tsunami.

They discussed ideas that would have been taboo before things got so bad: countries ceding fiscal sovereignty to a central authority; some kind of elite group of euro nations that would guarantee one another's loans - but require strong fiscal discipline from anyone wanting membership.

The fear is that the crisis could engulf bigger economies such as Italy, the eurozone's third-largest.

If Italy were to default on its debt the fallout could ruin the euro project and send shockwaves throughout the global economy.

In a reminder of the urgency, Italy's borrowing rates shot up to rates above 7%, an unsustainable level on a par with rates that forced the others to seek bailouts.

At the top of the agenda is finding a means to further integrate the eurozone's disparate nations - ranging from powerful Germany to tiny Malta - both politically and financially.

France's finance minister, Francois Baroin, said that countries should integrate their budgets more closely and monitor one another's spending. He said France and Germany - which have been calling the shots on efforts to overcome the crisis - will make proposals on how eurozone countries can monitor each another under such a new system.

The 17 ministers are expected to discuss jointly issuing eurobonds. Right now each nation issues its own bonds, meaning that while Italy pays above 7%, Germany pays about 2%.

Having stronger countries like Germany stand behind the general European debt would lower Italy's borrowing rates - and avoid a debt spiral that leads to a national bankruptcy. At the same time, it would raise Germany's cost of borrowing, and that is why Germany has been fiercely opposed to the eurobond proposal.

Proponents of elite bonds say the proceeds could help the eurozone's weaker countries, in return for strict conditions imposed on their budgets. Critics argue that further fragmenting the eurozone into strong countries and weak countries would benefit no one.