Eurozone crisis: Troubling year ahead

 
Nun passing by a beggar in Rome, 10 Dec 12 Beggar in Rome: Italy's debt mountain remains a source of anxiety

Europe's leaders, at the start of the year, would have settled for how 2012 is ending.

The worst of the predictions did not come true. The eurozone has survived intact, but it is still a currency in intensive care.

Recently I asked the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, how far we were through the crisis and he thought somewhere between 50 and 60%.

Positive signs

Firstly - for those who see the glass half-full.

Europe's leaders demonstrated their absolute commitment to defend the euro and the markets have started to believe them.

The President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, was the star of the year. By promising to do whatever it takes to defend the currency he brought down the borrowing costs of countries like Spain and Italy. His promise remains untested, but the markets are wary of betting against the bank.

To the often-asked question of what stands behind the euro - the answer is now the ECB.

One of the ratings agencies said "the future of the euro will be decided at the gates of Rome". Under Prime Minister Mario Monti's stewardship, Italy's borrowing costs shrank and reforms are being pushed through.

Europe has committed itself to a banking union - and a European supervisor of the eurozone's big banks. It will involve a large transfer of national authority to a European institution - the ECB. Considering the banks have been at the heart of the crisis, this is a hugely significant step.

Once the banking supervisor is in place, troubled banks will be able to apply for help directly from the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It should mark the end of banking problems ending up on government books and forcing up their debts.

Greece did not leave the euro - something many German MPs and officials had suggested as recently as July. The word "Grexit" is no longer heard in the land. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is judged "serious" and "reliable".

Frau Europe - Angela Merkel - is almost certain to be re-elected as German chancellor in September, although it may make her even more cautious in the short term.

And now the bad news...

Secondly - for those who see the glass as half-empty.

If you look at the real economy, instead of the eurozone's new architecture, the outlook for 2013 is bleak. More countries are heading into recession and unemployment is still rising.

The Greek problem has been rolled over. Almost no one believes that its debts are sustainable. Sooner or later some of its debt will have to be written off. The German taxpayers, at some stage, are likely to be told they will lose money in Greece.

Spain's economy is caught in a cycle of decline. Almost no one expects it to emerge from recession in 2013. It has proved the critics wrong so far, but early next year the question will return - will Spain need a full bailout? That is a problem unresolved. Its social fabric is fraying. Every large-scale demonstration has become more violent.

Italy has entered a period of political instability. Silvio Berlusconi may prove to be less of a player than imagined just a few weeks ago, but there is still likely to be jockeying for power. Mario Monti, the market's favourite, may yet be anointed as the next leader, but the reforms are far less impressive than heralded and Italy is stuck in recession.

Anti-austerity backlash

The British are tiring of the European project and some Europeans are tiring of British exceptionalism. The real political debate about Britain's future in Europe has yet to begin. It will start with David Cameron's "big speech" early in the New Year.

France is the country that makes the Germans queasy. Officials in Berlin believe the first months of Francois Hollande's administration have been a lost opportunity. The new French president has made delivering on his election promises his priority. What French critics want to see is a commitment to modernise France with far-reaching structural reforms.

Across Europe there is growing resistance to austerity. Some European officials have told me we are now entering the most dangerous period - waiting for the reforms to deliver. One senior official said that if growth does not return in two years all bets are off.

Verdict: A better year than Europe expected, but next year is full of challenges. If you accept, as a senior German official does, that more than 50% of economic policy is about psychology, then the mood is more hopeful than had been expected. My tip for 2013 is to spend less time looking at institutional changes and more at the real economy.

The future of the eurozone may well be determined by whether Europe's people have the patience to see if cutting deficits at a time of recession delivers.

 
Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 149.

    the problem in Europe is the economy is to dependent on government spending and employment then private sector.
    without a vibrant private sector economies can not recover.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 148.

    146.Sam M


    Im Italian,plenty of people i know like the UK


    EUp: As with Italy there are good things and bad things about it.

    Personally, I think it is time to give this a break until after Christmas.

    So:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS ONE AND ALL AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR


    TO ALL

    ALL

    ALL

    ALL

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 147.

     
    #146

    Sam M,

    It's not often I agree with Margaret, but I strongly suspect if sales of Union Flags are rising it is so that demonstrators can burn them for the benefit of T.V. outside broadcast units.

    Why do you think the Stars & Stripes sells so well?


    >8-D

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 146.

    @ 124 Margaret Howard


    Sorry but thats a lie. Right after the olympics,the sales of union jacks around Europe went up dramtically,and ill think you find people in Scandinavia are very anglophilic. I think it might be you yourself,as other comments you post clearly make you up to be Anti British yourself . Im Italian,plenty of people i know like the UK

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 145.

    143.margaret howard
    12 Minutes ago
    142 EU

    "EUp: If we wern't in the "EU" we could spend more on worthwhile things"

    I don't think so. You should have seen them in the '60s and 70's before we joined and the EU poured billions into our regions.

    EUp: I did! I was there!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 144.

    David: France

    If there was no France just like if there was no Britain just like if there was no individual countries in Europe in past before EU
    there would be no USA

    By the way
    Merry Christmas to everyone!!!!!!! ;)

    Just got the Christmas tree today at tree farm, its a real beauty+the guy even threw in a giant wreath for free, we decorated it with shamrocks for our Irish heritage

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 143.

    142 EU

    "EUp: If we wern't in the "EU" we could spend more on worthwhile things"

    I don't think so. You should have seen them in the '60s and 70's before we joined and the EU poured billions into our regions.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 142.

    126.margaret howard

    ... here in East Anglia. The roads are potholed, local hospital a shambles with queues in the corridors and monthlong waits for treatment. Our library and register office have closed down, so has our museum.

    EUp: If we wern't in the "EU" we could spend more on worthwhile things

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 141.

    137 DavidUS

    "France remains the rotten heart of the EU"

    What makes you suppose that? I'm a frequent visitor, have lived in Paris and never regarded it as 'rotten'.

    But when we read headlines like today:

    "Walmart SELLS OUT of guns as Americans rush to stockpile weapons in aftermath of Sandy Hook massacre"

    people might well suppose your desription might fit your own country.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 140.

    Just a few figures. German export is about 1 trillion Euro, with 60% of it to the EU countries. This makes 25% of the EU internal trade. German population is about 16% of the total EU, and they take over 9% of total activity from the other EU countries. 9% more weighs import of other EU countries. By analogy, 9% of total job vacancies has been transferred from other EU countries to Germany.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 139.

    135.
    sieuarlu
    "As for libraries, you won't be needing them any longer.Benjiman Franklin in the US invented public lending libraries.Now we've invented Kindles to replace them"

    What about an invention that makes Washington work for the American people? Boehner is in dire straits.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 138.

    130.
    Arthur Daley
    "The question is can the EZ be sustainable without being a transfer union"
    Definitely not, at least from a short and medium term perspective.
    The EZ is already a transfer union, albeit working imperfectly. No union can be thought of without a minimum of solidarity.
    If the only purpose of the EU had been the "single market", no Eurozone would exist.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 137.

    France remains the rotten heart of the EU.

    Its relationship with Germany has always been parasitical, but now other EU countries are even more in need of German funds than France is. Only if the EU transcends its fixation with France & moves its centre of gravity elsewhere will there be hope of .moving forward.

    Germany ne-nazified itself after WW2, the EU now needs to de-Gallicize itself.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 136.

    I see it as all talk , any talk of improvements are either just verbal hope or measure in millemetres . The severe austerity across Europe is shrinking economies at an alarming rate . Without growth I think there is little chance of an economic recovery . Saving the Euro at all costs may very well bring down the EU , Greece , Italy , Spain , will never recover while the Euro exists .

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 135.

    126" Our library and register office have closed down, so has our museum."

    You don't need a museum. All of England is a museum. All of Europe is a museum. A living museum. Why do you think American tourists pay money to go there?

    As for libraries, you won't be needing them any longer.Benjiman Franklin in the US invented public lending libraries.Now we've invented Kindles to replace them.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 134.

    115.
    David Horton
    "Germany and the other N European countries are secretly desperate to have Britain in the EU because we balance the seesaw".

    Merkel tries to keep Britain inside. I am not so sure about Hollande.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 133.

    126.margaret howard - "......roads are potholed, local hospital a shambles with queues in the corridors and monthlong waits for treatment. Our library and register office have closed down......"



    That is not bankruptcy, that is having the Tories back in power...


    ...coalition? No chance, not with the Orange Bookers in charge at Lib Dem HQ, who are actually wolves in orange clothing....

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 132.

    The only open question is when will those taxpayers in countries who feel they should be competitive get fed up by realizing that the weak countries like the PIIGS are not getting stronger and will never pay them back? When will they vote in governments that will put an end to bleeding them to keep the insane dream of the EU alive?They won't put up with it forever when they see bailouts don't work

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 131.

    There hasn't bee a single comprehensive plan let alone a viable one that would get Europe out of the red.Nor can one exist because its lifestyle that Europeans think they have a right to and insist on politically makes them highly uncompetitive with the rest of the world.All they can do is continue to drain money from the least uncompetitive to the most uncompetitive until all of them are broke.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 130.

    ref 129

    MH This map will fill you with joy and move some to launch a breakaway movement

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2008/06/map_of_the_week_public_spendin.html

    Transfer is the whole basis of a transfer union (UK, USA) and the thing the EZ is ripping itself apart about. The question is can the EZ be sustainable without being a transfer union. The answer is probably not

 

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