Wednesday, October 22, 2014
16

破碎的法国之梦

美国剑桥—欧元区危机源自法国对“欧洲工程”的不懈追求。二战结束后,法国两位政治领袖莫内和舒曼建议成立欧罗巴合众国,以实现政治统一,是为“欧洲工程”之始。

莫内和舒曼指出,一个类似于美国的政治联盟能够避免导致三场欧洲大战的冲突,这一观点着实诱人,但却忽略了可怕的美国南北战争。欧洲政治联盟还能够将欧洲打造成能与美国分庭抗礼的一极,从而让外交网络的法国在欧洲和世界事务上扮演重要角色。

1956年,在莫内-舒曼设想的推动下,《罗马条约》诞生了。罗马条约成立了一个小型自由贸易区,并在日后扩展为欧洲经济共同体。欧洲经济共同体的成立形成了积极的经济效果,但与北美自由贸易区一样,它并没有削弱国家身份,也没有造成政治统一的氛围。

而这便是1992年《马斯特里赫特条约》的目的,欧盟便诞生于马约中。1990年,在前法国财政部长德洛尔的领导下,著名报告《一个市场,一种货币》(One market, one money)发布了。该报告呼吁创造一种单一货币,其立论基础似是而非:没有单一货币,单一市场就无法良好运行。其支持者所提出的更现实的理由包括这会激起人们对欧洲身份的认同感、成立单一欧洲央行可以作为各国政府移交权力的先声等。

德国坚决反对欧元,指出必须政治联盟先行。由于没有其他国家会接受政治联盟,因此德国的立场似乎是阻止成立单一货币区的技术借口。德国人不愿放弃马克,此乃其经济实力和物价稳定承诺的象征。直到法国总统密特朗提出以法国支持德国重新统一为条件,德国人才最终同意创造欧元。

此外,在法国的压力下,马约放松了只有国民债务水平低于GDP的60%的国家才能使用欧元的要求,以接纳似乎正在朝这一目标“前进”的国家。该标准的改变让希腊、西班牙和意大利得以使用欧元。

支持欧元的政客忽视了经济学家的警告:让十多个情况各异的国家使用单一货币会造成严重的经济问题。他们认为,与政治统日程相比,经济风险乃小菜一碟。

但欧元的使用使得外围国家利率骤降,导致了债务驱动的房地产繁荣,也鼓励了这些国家政府用借贷来为增长的政府支出融资。令人惊奇的是,全球金融市场完全无视这类主权债务的信用风险,希腊和其他外围国债券的利率与德国债券差别极小。

这种情况一直持续到2010年希腊承认在预算赤字和债务方面存在造假为止。金融市场的反应是大大提高了政府债务比率高企国家的债券利率,银行系统也被过多的按揭债务拖垮了。

三个小国(希腊、爱尔兰和葡萄牙)已被迫接受来自IMF的援助,实施痛苦的收缩性财政削减。希腊则完全看不到希望,可能会出现进一步违约甚至退出欧元区。西班牙也陷入了严重的麻烦,因为其传统上拥有自主权的地方政府预算赤字太大、其银行太过疲软、其主权债务余额每年都必须大量展期。

情况已经很清楚,欧盟最近通过的“财政协定”不会约束预算赤字和削减国民债务。西班牙是第一个坚持自己无法满足自己刚刚同意的条件的国家,其他国家也将很快步其后尘。法国总统奥朗德提出了以增长计划平衡预算限制的办法,这一办法很像当年法国迫使欧盟稳定公约变身为稳定和增长公约。财政协定只是一个表面姿态,也许将成为假装欧盟成员国正在朝政治联盟方向前进的最后努力。

欧洲计划显然没有达到法国政治领袖一开始的预期。莫内和舒曼所梦想的友好和认同并没有实现,出现的是冲突和无序。欧洲的国际作用在减小,当年的G5如今已经变成了G20。而随着德国总理默克尔对欧元区的指手画脚,法国人主导欧洲政策的雄心也受到了打击。

即使大多是欧元区国家保留了单一货币,其原因也是放弃欧元在财政上太过痛苦。欧元的弱点已是昭然若揭,它只能是麻烦之源,而不是通往政治一极之路。

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  1. CommentedH Gerken

    The mistake of the author is that he thinks the US as a world power but the US only became a world power after WWII. So France didn't aim to match with the US, that is clear nonsense, but sure they witnessed the defeat of their nation in no time in WWII. "Germany eventually agreed to the creation of the euro only when French President François Mitterrand made it a condition of France’s support for German reunification." - As if they had the powers to deny the people reunification. No, the bargaining shows that these nations just pursue their self-interest.

  2. CommentedMiriano Ravazzolo

    Mr. Feldstein has surely some points in his analysis, but unfortunately, as Alexis Lefranc underlines, misses some extremely significant details like the Wall Street crash which has had such a significant part in the current Euro troubles.

    Any case I wanted to underline that within the countries now in difficulties Italy stands in quite a different perspective. The size of its economy is way, way larger than the others (actually, larger than all the others together) and while it has indeed significant problems it is also more structurally sound, with significant exports.

    This means that while Italy is indeed within the troubled countries it is as well in a quite different position, starting with the simple fact that this is really the flag case of "too big to fail", and should therefore be considered appropriately.

      CommentedStephan Heller

      Poeple may claim a thousand times that the Wall Street Crash has a signifcant role in the Euro crisis. It does not become any more true. The countries now in crisis -except Ireland- had only minor exposure to the US and, therefore, the crash did not contribute to debt burdens in Southern Europe in any significant way. The Euro crisis is as European as Wall Street is American and we in Europe need to face our problems without seeking excuses for our failed policies across the Atlantic.

  3. Portrait of Michael Heller

    CommentedMichael Heller

    Martin Feldstein:

    “Mitterrand made it [the euro] a condition of France’s support for German reunification.”

    That must have been a torturous trade! There are invaluable paragraphs of history here. May today’s critics of Germany be reminded of France’s recklessness and the extent of the arm-twisting to get Germany’s reluctant agreement for premature currency union. I listened to an interview with Joachim Bitterlich -- foreign and security adviser to Kohl -- which also points the finger at France. Germany was able at least to insist on an *independent* central bank. Bitterlich’s half-excuse is they thought then they could “afford” the Greek and Italian risk, but later EU administrations did not adapt the governance structures to financial innovation and globalization.

      CommentedH Gerken

      Yes, a lack of order policy. But here again it's the negative influx from Washington ideology and 1990ths globalisation to Brussels. Germany and France in 1989 were governed on different principles. they didn't knew that Brussels would become a sort of corporate stakeholder rule, not a Europe of the citizens and sound exercise of state powers. The Europe of 1989 was small.

  4. CommentedWojciech Corluka

    Ofcourse the eurozone is dealing with severe risks right now and we have been shown the weaknesses of the single currency but that does not mean that it " will remain a source of trouble rather than a path to political power". This crisis was caused by the inablility of some countries ( Greece, Spain, Portugal etc) to manage their fiscal policies the right way, which does not necessarily mean there's no way back to balanced budgets, debt reduction and competitiveness. There is just the urgent need of strict persuance of the rules ( i.e. the Maastricht criteria rules). There might be the need for Greece and some others to leave the eurozone which probobly bring strong negatice reactions from the markets in the short run, but in the long-run the Euro would continue with the its strongest members and would eventually return to its normal level. Also, the USA's national debt exceeds the gross domestic product, which is a clear sign on unsustainability. Therefore, the times when the world is discussing on saving the USD might not be far

  5. CommentedDaniel Breyer

    The European project hasn't completely failed, it has achieved one major aim which you mention yourself in that it has prevented any major European conflict. Also it has laid the foundation for the future. There may be current troubles however this could just be the long path to success. With the largest single market, and most likely staying together due to "abandoning the euro would be financially painful" surviving now and if the politicians learn from their mistakes the next step is toward political union.

  6. CommentedManfred Dix

    This is the final triumph of Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady always opposed a "Euro-style" type of European unification, but favored a European Economic Community of trading nations. She used to say "the Germans will be Germans always, the Italians will be Italians, and the British will be British", signifiying that Europe should be a huge customs union with free trade and free flow of labor, but still with national policies and national governments.
    She was right, it seems.

  7. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    Germany is a rising star in the world economy and dominates a German Economic Zone including the Netherlands and Austria plus Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic and extending east in the Ukraine, etc. (Warsaw will be the new Paris!)

    France, Spain, and Italy are going to be supplicants using the euro-zone institutions to mediate with the German zone for credit and fiscal subsidy. The politics is going to be about how much subsidy they can extract out of the German Zone and upon which terms.

    Euro-zone politics will no longer be about the brave new world but rather will be the oscillating politics between the dynamic and the non-dynamic.

  8. CommentedMichael Booth

    "More Europe" is the answer, but it is failing because "more Europe" has come to mean "less democracy". A continent that invented Communism and Fascism and failed will not find some new autocratic format successful either. "Political union" has come to mean "more autocracy", with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy in Brussels being the symbol of all that the people of Europe reject.

    The American Republic, after years of failed confederation, was offered to the citizens, not rammed down their throats. "Technocratic" PM's and elections criticized as "unhelpful" are the root problem of the entire EU mess.

    The EU needs to be rebuilt; the current track as Feldstein says correctly, is broken. The EU Parliament, not the Council, needs to have the final say. Police powers need to reside with the nations, and specific powers reserved for the EU, such that bureaucratic dictat ends. Which powers are given to the EU, and which retained by the nations, is precisely what election after election must be about.

    The Euro mess will never be fixed unless the EU is first, and that requires not "more Europe" autocratically imposed but "more Europe" democratically created. Rebuild the EU in election after election, upon the common needs and desires of European peoples, and moving to "more Europe" will be welcomed. Only thus will the Euro will find the political base it requires.

      CommentedTim Colgan

      “The American Republic, after years of failed confederation, was offered to the citizens, not rammed down their throats. ”

      Michael: What history book did you read this in?

      Federalism in the US has had a long and stormy history. Yes, the initial Confederation had its failings, but there was far from universal accord in the forming of a stronger union. The initial Federalists met in secret and writers of the Federalist papers used pseudonyms. During the formation of the government, populist revolts (Shay’s Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion) had to be put down in order to establish the government’s authority. Later, the Civil War was fought to re-enforce the consolidation. To this day “Don’t Tread on Me” flags are flown in every town in the country as a statement of opposition of federal power.

      Humans have a natural aversion to centralized power. Anarchy (each of us being a government in ourselves) is our fantasy. Yet the advantages of sharing in a common-wealth pulls us to union. A balancing act of powers determines our final state.

  9. CommentedWilliam Wallace

    Excellent summary of events. There was of course a bit more to it, such as the instability of the exchange rate mechanism ("snake in a tunnel"), which made a common currency seem like a better idea at the time.

    But the fact remains that the euro is a political currency lacking in fundamental mechanisms, a fiat currency if there ever was one.

    I think the best bet now is to prepare for the exit of those countries already under IMF tutelage. Spain and Italy, though weaker than their northern neighbors, can however prove competitive within the euro with a bit more internal devaluation. Beyond proper support via eurobonds or their equivalent, the remaining union will also be rather forced to move forward toward much greater political unity, or relive the current horrors another day.

  10. CommentedAlexis Lefranc

    It is interesting the the European political union should be seen (rather shortsightedly) as an emulation of the US federal framework. Integration in the European political structure has been a trend for at least 500 years, through Westphalian and Concert of Nation systems. This begun long before America was even discovered by the Europeans who then founded the US.

    Laying the ground for peaceful coexistence was indeed the inspiration behind the European defence et energy communities that led to the Treaty of Rome, and the EU has been quite successful at that since its beginnings, securing the first lengthy period of peace in its long history. Integration has steadily increased as well as the development of its institutions and democratic representation over 55 years. The Euro that was predicted to fail within a year has proven to be a strong currency now key to world financial balance. More stable than the dollar and pound, more tradable than the yen or yuan, it fills a crucial vacuum in the global financial system.

    But really the unacceptable omission in Mr Feldstein's article is to not even mention the Wall Street 2008 financial crisis and its influence on the European economy.

    The Euro's situation is certainly not helped by the weakness of some EU peripheral economies, nor by lack of coordination in its members' economic and monetary policies. But these only aggravating factors in a global financial context still suffering from inconsistent and unsustainable deregulation of security trading in the US.

    Perhaps the reason for Mr Feldstein's memory lapse is to be found in the substantial personal profits he has made from such deregulation, while advising US governments to go ahead with it. Are they not the same policies that have led to systemic failures he is now trying to blame others for?

      CommentedR Kumar

      Blaming 2008 wall street crash for "causing" Eurozone problems is intellectual dishonesty. One can argue that the crisis merely exposed them.

      Financial crisis occur and will continue to occur in future (esp in relatively deregulated economies like US). If a currency union structure can't stand up to a financial crisis, then it is better to critically analyse the structure itself.

  11. CommentedPaul Jacobson

    The problem is that national desires for dominance still are the main objective rather than European goals.

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