A year of change for the European Union?
The European Union, which still lacks a post-Brexit vision of itself, will be changing the leadership of almost all its leading institutions over the next few months. Candidates are already jostling for position to take over at the European Commission and the European Central Bank, and surprises could be in store. With non-mainstream parties likely to gain seats in the May European Parliament elections, the EU-27 seems headed for even less harmony and more dissension.
‘Overbanking’ in Europe
While American banks recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, lenders in Europe have languished. Contrasting regulatory approaches and economic environments account for some of the differences, but European banking authorities have their own explanation: “overbanking.” Their reasoning is odd, not least because the European Union’s banking sector is shrinking.
Orderly failure: The EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive
After the 2008-2009 financial crisis, governments are wary about bailing out distressed banks with taxpayer money. But the bail-in procedures implemented in 2016 by the European Union, while helping minimize some risks, have their own drawbacks. If new proposals are adopted to give resolution authorities more preemptive powers, they will give technocrats unprecedented control over the banking industry.
The euro and the promise to end monetary profligacy
As the European Central Bank winds down its quantitative easing program, none of its future policy options look especially promising for the euro. While investors would welcome a more neutral monetary stance, that could spur political tensions in the euro area that could roil financial markets. Meanwhile, regulation is on the rise and growth could suffer, with unpleasant consequences for the single currency.
The false end of quantitative easing
In June, the European Central Bank made the fateful announcement that it would phase out its bond-buying program – called quantitative easing, or QE – by the end of this year. But putting an end to net bond purchases is not the same thing as ending the ECB’s ultra-lax monetary policy. By leaving the door open to rolling over its massive balance sheet of bonds as they mature, policymakers could keep oxygenating the euro area’s economy for years to come.
The end of the Greek bailout program: What comes next?
As the Greek bailout program reaches its scheduled end in August 2018, the country’s government and international community must decide what comes next. Some reforms have been implemented, and the public budget even runs a surplus. But the economy remains vulnerable. The EU could dig in and insist Athens reimburses at least part of its debt, or it could cancel it altogether. The latter option is preferable – and more likely – but the EU will have to be ready to stand up to some tough criticism about the precedent it would set.
New narratives emerging on EU finances
The European Union’s inflexible budget process – constrained by seven-year Multiannual Financial Frameworks (MFFs) – has left the bloc almost incapable of handling major crises. The resort to ad hoc solutions over the past decade has only made the situation worse. Now, reformers are considering new revenue sources, and even more revolutionary steps such as EU taxes or a separate eurozone budget.
The consequences of prolonged low interest rates in Europe
Monetary policymakers are becoming preoccupied with the risks of persistently low interest rates to Europe’s still fragile economic recovery. Ultra-easy credit is creating growing economic distortions and asset bubbles, while reviving volatility and risk in financial markets. The European Central Bank realizes it must “normalize” rates, but it worries that sudden tightening could precipitate a financial crisis that could be as bad or worse than 2008-2009.
Opinion: Mario Centeno’s useful ambiguities
New Eurogroup Chairman Mario Centeno is known as a socialist, but despite his “anti-austerity” reputation, he slashed government spending and deficits while he was finance minister of Portugal. This earned him trust on both sides of the fiscal policy divide, and will allow him either to keep the Eurogroup as a low-profile talking shop, or to help it raise its stature to eurozone policymaking body.