Germany Points Finger at "Moochers of Rome"

Mike Mish Shedlock

A Spiegel editorial compares Italy with a moocher who fails to say thank you for a donation.

Eurointelligence notes that German politicians and media have embarked on a xenophobic anti-European rampage, reminiscent of the discourse of the 1930s.

The editorial by Jan Fleischbauer titled "the moochers of Rome" is seething with contempt. He wonders how to call those who finance their dolce far niente lifestyle with the money of others. No prizes for guessing whom he had in mind. And for good measure he writes that the beggar at least says thank you if you fill his bag. He concludes no respectable nation should asks for help if it can help itself. No respectable nation wants to be known as a moocher. Italians have long passed this stage he concludes.

The French magazine Marianne notes that the Spiegel cover displays arrogance, stereotypes and authoritarianism consistent with their coverage of the political crisis in Italy. It is not an example of solidarity.

After the injudicious comments by Günther Oettinger last week, other German politicians continued in a similar spirit. CDU MP Eckhardt Rehberg warned that Italy is playing with fire and putting the eurozone in danger. And Markus Ferber, a CSU MEP, told the ZDF that in the worst case scenario of insolvency the troika (IMF, ECB and Commission) should march towards Rome and take over control of the Italian finance ministry.

Andreas Kluth wrote in Handelsblatt that Germany represents the opposite of the ideas that unite the southern euro area. Kluth says these two sides cannot be reconciled in the long run, no matter how much Merkel fudges a solution in the short run. Instead the divide gives rise to cultural narratives that use the worst stereotypes. It is this chasm that dooms Emmanuel Macron's eurozone reform proposals, which Kluth refers to as southern-flavoured. He calls for the proponents to accept a shrinking of the union rather than jeopardising the whole eurozone. Of course, there was no reflection at all about Germany's own contribution to this crisis.

Lazy Italians and Ugly Germans

The Handelsblatt discusses 'Lazy Italians' and 'ugly Germans': How the euro sows discord

A common currency was supposed to unite Europeans. Instead, it increasingly divides them, as Italy showed again this week.

Listen to Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League, one of the two populist parties that will form the next Italian government: “We have a basic principle,” hesaid. “Only Italians make decisions for Italy, not the Germans… A minister the Germans don’t like is exactly the right minister for us.” A colleague added that it was time “to free the country from the chains that Brussels and Berlin have put on our ankles.”

What, you might ask, did Germany even have to do with the events in Rome this week? Good question. Superficially, nothing.

Below the surface, however, Germany has a lot to do with Italy’s political crisis. That’s because Germany represents the opposite of the ideas that, more or less, unite the southern euro area, from Greece to France and Italy. Whereas the south demands “solidarity,” Germany fears a “transfer union,” in which northern money permanently subsidizes bad loans and fiscal licentiousness in the south. Where the south clamors for stimulus, Germany demands austerity. Where the south wants fiscal discretion, Germany insists on strict Ordoliberal rules.

North vs. South

As I have been discussing North vs South (Germany vs peripheral) for well over a decade. These are irreconcilable differences.

The structural flaws in the Euro itself are the root cause of much of the pain.

Structural Flaws

  • The ECB runs policy as "one size fits Germany". Yet, interest rates suitable for Germany are not suitable for other countries.
  • Productivity and regulations vary widely from country to country. Greece is a basket case of rules and regulations. French work rules are insane. Despite alleged "freedom of movement", try setting up a bake shop in Germany.
  • Target2 is a structural payment flaw with no solution.

Target2 Imbalances

Target2, which guarantees repayments, is out of balance by close to €trillion.

  • Germany is owed €902.4 billion, mostly by Italy and Spain.
  • Italy owes creditors €426.4 billion.
  • Spain owes creditors €389.3 billion.

How the hell is this supposed to be paid back? The unadmitted answer is: It can't and won't unless the ECB steps in and bails Germany out.

The final structural flaw is it takes 100% agreement to change the treaty. This ensures that the Maastricht treaty which created the eurozone can never be revised in a meaningful way. The North-South divide is such there can never be changes.

Merkel compounded the problems with inept immigration policy.

Known Going In

The euro flaws were recognized going in. The bureaucrats insisted the Euro would bring nations together over time.

In good times, there was an illusion the idea worked.

A rise in populism everywhere, even in Germany, proves otherwise.

Lack of European Reform Will Break the Eurozone

Wolfgang Münchau, associate editor of the Financial Times, and founder of Eurointelligence says Lack of European reform, not Italy, will break the eurozone.

Once again, I agree with Münchau on what is happening but disagree about solutions.

Münchau proposes "Italy could use its weight in the upcoming appointments of the EU’s most important jobs: the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the ECB."

He concludes "If you are really pro-euro, my advice is to stop treating the euro as an article of faith but fight for its sustainability. That fight cannot be won in Italy alone. It requires big policy shifts in Brussels too."

Dream On

The structural flaws noted above show that a big shift in Brussels is impossible.

Moreover, Trump is widening the Eurozone split with his policies on Germany, Iran, and the Russia pipeline.

At least Münchau understands the need for Plan B (leaving). His plan A is structural Fantasyland.

Germany Will Pay

Germany will pay one way or another. Here are the possibilities.

  1. Germany and the creditor nations forgive enough debt for Europe to grow. This is the transfer union solution.
  2. Permanently high unemployment and slow growth in Spain, Greece, Italy, with stagnation elsewhere in Europe
  3. Breakup of the eurozone

Those are the alternatives.

Germany will not allow number 1. It is unreasonable to expect number 2 to last forever. The only door left open is door number 3.

The best move would be for Germany to leave the eurozone. Germany is in the best shape to suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is a destructive breakup of the eurozone, starting in Italy or Greece.

Meanwhile, covers accusing Italy of being ungrateful moochers cannot possibly help matters.

For further discussion of the alternatives please see my September 2016 articles:

  1. Michael Pettis Calls Surplus Trade Statements by German Finance Minister “Utter Lunacy”
  2. Germany’s Finance Minister Blames ECB For German Trade Surplus; Why the Eurozone Will Destruct

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (16)
caradoc-again
caradoc-again

"The bureaucrats insisted the Euro would bring nations together over time." Have to comment it was expected the bringing together would be via crushing deflation in some peripheral countries forcing integration on the promise to alleviate the pain. This is the real evil in the idea/plan - the idea of a single Europe was considered over-ridingly important & people didn't matter, collateral damage.

No. 1-16
Carl_R
Carl_R

Italy's problem is the same as Greece. Until such time as they run a surplus (i.e., never?), they won't be in a position to tell Germany to forget getting repaid.

abend237-04
abend237-04

It's deja vu all over again. The German strong suit has never been accommodation; maybe it's in the water. In AD 9 an Italian general, Quinctilius Varus, and three Roman legions were annihilated by Germanic tribes led by Arminius. The 20,000 dead represented roughly ten percent of the Roman Empire's military forces at the time and put an end to Rome's expansion east of the Rhine. Two thousand and nine years later, they're at it again. The world needs Germany in a European entity of some sort. The current European Union isn't it.

Snow_Dog
Snow_Dog

“Whatever cannot go on forever will stop.” ~ Herb Stein, Council of Economic Advisers for the Nixon Administration

The thing is, some of this stuff can go on forever.

MattH
MattH
MattH
MattH

Mish - there is a 4th alternative and that is for the authorities to fix the Euro currency itself so that it is able to facilitate trade between unequal countries in the Euro.

To that end they need to delink it from debt and fix the qualitative valuation of each unit of the currency (this could be akin to going back to the gold standard, however my view is that a gold standard would unnecessarily limit the quantity of currency in circulation, leading to "hoarding" and "persistent" deflation over time), and then allow the market to set the appropriate interest rates for each country.

Mike Mish Shedlock
Mike Mish Shedlock

Editor

That requires a treaty change - Every Eurozone country has to approve

Blacklisted
Blacklisted

You forgot the most important flaw of the euro/EU - the bureaucrats chose the politically correct path of not consolidating the debt of EU members, which would have created a true competitor to the dollar as the Plaza Accord envisioned in 1985.

KidHorn
KidHorn

The problem with the EU is the Mediterranean countries can't compete on a level playing field with the other countries. A common currency levels the playing field. The only way for the EU to succeed is to put Germany in complete control. Which will never be allowed for obvious reasons.

JanNL
JanNL

A fork in it please. In the Euro. And in the EU. Wellsprings of discord.

JonSellers
JonSellers

Germany benefits wildly and far more than Italy from the Euro because the Euro undervalues German competitiveness allowing them to export more than they otherwise would be able to. Germans prefer to not understand this simple economic reality and instead make it a moral issue so that they can feel superior to others. In a true free market in the euro area, German industrialists would move their industry to lower paying, Southern European nations, which would even out employment and income across the Euro area. But Germany is not a free market state, it is a mercantalist state. So that will never happen. Germany should leave the Euro and reestablish the Mark. And stop living off the unemployment of the South.

Runner Dan
Runner Dan

That’s the way I understand it: Germany got to sell their well-crafted wares to consumers who couldn’t otherwise afford it thanks to the fraudulent euro scheme. Well, now the bill is due and the consumer is shrugging his shoulders “I ain’t got it!”. Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs types who engineered the whole shenanigan are long gone, living in the wealthier neighborhoods of Europe/USA. We (Americans) have seen this same theme play out here with housing & higher education: lend money to people who can’t pay it back, collect the fees, and let the government clean things up.

Carl_R
Carl_R

Another possibility would be to add a political union to the economic union. Then, just as poorer states in the US get an unending flow of assistance from the richer states, the flow of money from Germany to places like Italy and Greece could continue. Of course, Germany would never agree to that, so it can't happen. More realistically, the longer term solution would seem to me to be for the countries that are fiscally prudent to kick the ones that are fiscally irresponsible out of the union, and let them deal with their own problems, even if that means those expelled countries sliding into poverty. Edit to add: In fairness, Italy's annual deficit is not nearly as bad as Greece, and at least prior to this new government, has been improving. In 2009 it was 5.3% of GDP, and has slowly improved to 2.3% of GDP in the recent year. Still, their total outstanding debt of 131.8% of GDP is quite large, and the recent dramatic rise in their interest rate will drive the deficit up, regardless of what the new government does.

RonJ
RonJ

The Germans are still German. The French are still French. The Italians are still Italian. The Brexits are still British. Each still has their own language and their own culture. Each is still a sovereign nation.

QTPie
QTPie

Actually, Italy runs both a primary surplus as well as a current account surplus (and has so for years).

Carl_R
Carl_R

I edited my comment above to include actual Italian economic data. Their deficit is shrinking, or was, until their interest rate shot up. They have a very high debt/GDP ratio, at about 130%.


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