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Twilight of the Euro?

Twenty years after the formal creation of the euro, few can honestly say that the single currency has been a success. After fueling a massive credit bubble in Southern Europe in its first decade, it gave rise to an array of complex monetary-policy and transfer schemes in its second – and more trouble is looming as it enters its third.

MUNICH – In May 1998, irrevocable conversion rates for the currencies that would be merged into the euro were implemented. In a sense, this makes the single currency just over 20 years old. The first decade of its life had the feeling of a party, particularly in Southern Europe; but the second decade brought the inevitable hangover. Now, as we enter the third decade, the prevailing mood seems to be one of increasing political radicalization.

The original party was a cornucopia of cheap credit, which capital markets happily issued to the countries of Southern Europe under the protection of the euro. For a while, these countries finally had enough money to increase public-sector salaries and pensions, as well as spur private consumption and investment.

But the credit flooding into these countries created inflationary bubbles, which burst when the 2008 financial crisis in the United States spread to Europe. As capital markets refused to extend further credit, Southern Europe’s previously halfway-competitive but now overpriced economies soon ran into serious trouble.

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