The Collateral Damage of Europe’s Rescue

MUNICH – The eurozone is now in its sixth year of crisis – and of efforts by the European Central Bank and the international community to end it. Policymakers are becoming ensnared in a creeping interventionism that, as British Prime Minister David Cameron has put it, may alter the eurozone “beyond recognition” and violates Europe’s basic economic and political rules.

The newest demand, loudly voiced by French President François Hollande, is for the ECB to manipulate the exchange rate. Hollande is alarmed by the rapid appreciation of the euro, which has risen from $1.21 at the end of July 2012 to $1.36 in early February this year. The strengthening exchange rate is putting additional pressure on the rickety southern European and French economies, undermining their already low competitiveness.

The cheap credit ushered in by the euro fed an inflationary economic bubble in southern Europe that burst when the financial crisis hit. Credit terms worsened abruptly, and what was left was the thoroughly overpriced rump of economies that had become excessively dependent on foreign financing.

The French economy, in turn, is suffering because its customers in southern Europe are in trouble. According to a study by Goldman Sachs, France would have to depreciate by around 20% relative to the eurozone average, and by about 35% vis-à-vis Germany, to restore external-debt sustainability.