Stratfor: Germany’s Strategy

Sursa informationala+idee+text: Stratfor.com

Autor: George Friedman

The idea of Germany having an independent national strategy runs counter to everything that Germany has wanted to be since World War II and everything the world has wanted from Germany. In a way, the entire structure of modern Europe was created to take advantage of Germany’s economic dynamism while avoiding the threat of German domination. In writing about German strategy, I am raising the possibility that the basic structure of Western Europe since World War II and of Europe as a whole since 1991 is coming to a close.

If so, then the question is whether historical patterns of German strategy will emerge or something new is coming. It is, of course, always possible that the old post-war model can be preserved. Whichever it is, the future of German strategy is certainly the most important question in Europe and quite possibly in the world.

Origins of Germany’s Strategy

Before 1871, when Germany was fragmented into a large number of small states, it did not pose a challenge to Europe. Rather, it served as a buffer between France on one side and Russia and Austria on the other. Napoleon and his campaign to dominate Europe first changed the status of Germany, both overcoming the barrier and provoking the rise of Prussia, a powerful German entity. Prussia became instrumental in creating a united Germany in 1871, and with that, the geopolitics of Europe changed.

What had been a morass of states became not only a unified country but also the most economically dynamic country in Europe – and the one with the most substantial ground forces. Germany was also  inherently insecure. Lacking any real strategic depth, Germany could not survive a simultaneous attack by France and Russia. Therefore, Germany’s core strategy was to prevent the emergence of an alliance between France and Russia. However, in the event that there was no alliance between France and Russia, Germany was always tempted to solve the problem in a more controlled and secure way, by defeating France and ending the threat of an alliance. This is the strategy Germany has chosen for most of its existence.

The dynamism of Germany did not create the effect that Germany wanted. Rather than split France and Russia, the threat of a united Germany drew them together. It was clear to France and Russia that without an alliance, Germany would pick them off individually. In many ways, France and Russia benefited from an economically dynamic Germany. It not only stimulated their own economies but also provided an alternative to British goods and capital. Nevertheless, the economic benefits of relations with Germany did not eliminate the fear of Germany. The idea that economics rule the decisions of nations is insufficient for explaining their behavior.

Germany was confronted with a strategic problem. By the early 20th century the Triple Entente, signed in 1907, had allied Russia, France and the United Kingdom. If they attacked simultaneously at a time of their choosing, these countries could destroy Germany. Therefore, Germany’s only defense was to launch a war at a time of its choosing, defeat one of these countries and deal with the others at its leisure. During both World War I and World War II, Germany first struck at France and then turned to deal with Russia while keeping the United Kingdom at bay. In both wars, the strategy failed. In World War I, Germany failed to defeat France and found itself in an extended war on two fronts. In World War II, it defeated France but failed to defeat Russia, allowing time for an Anglo-American counterattack in the west.

Binding Germany to Europe

Germany was divided after World War II. Whatever the first inclinations of the victors, it became clear that a rearmed West Germany was essential if the Soviet Union was going to be contained. If Germany was to be rearmed, its economy had to be encouraged to grow, and what followed was the German economic miracle. Germany again became the most dynamic part of Europe.

The issue was to prevent Germany from returning to the pursuit of an autonomous national strategy, both because it could not resist the Soviet forces to the east by itself and, more important, because the West could not tolerate the re-emergence of divisive and dangerous power politics in Europe. The key was binding Germany to the rest of Europe militarily and economically. Put another way, the key was to make certain that German and French interests coincided, since tension between France and Germany had been one of the triggers of prior wars since 1871. Obviously, this also included other Western European countries, but it was Germany’s relationship with France that was most important.

Militarily, German and French interests were tied together under the NATO alliance even after France withdrew from the NATO Military Committee under Charles de Gaulle. Economically, Germany was bound with Europe through the emergence of more sophisticated multilateral economic organizations that ultimately evolved into the European Union.

After World War II, West Germany’s strategy was threefold. First, it had to defend itself against the Soviet Union in concert with an alliance that would effectively command its military through NATO. This would limit German sovereignty but eliminate the perception of Germany as a threat. Second, it would align its economy with that of the rest of Europe, pursuing prosperity without undermining the prosperity of other countries. Third, it would exercise internal political sovereignty, reclaiming its rights as a nation without posing a geopolitical threat to Western Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this was extended to include Eastern European states.

The strategy worked well. There was no war with the Soviets. There was no fundamental conflict in Western Europe and certainly none that was military in nature. The European economy in general, and the German economy in particular, surged once East Germany had been reintegrated with West Germany. With reintegration, German internal sovereignty was insured. Most important, France remained linked to Germany via the European Union and NATO. Russia, or what was left after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was relatively secure so long as Germany remained part of European structures. The historical strategic problem Germany had faced appeared solved.

Europe’s Economic Crisis

The situation became more complex after 2008. Germany’s formal relationship with NATO remained intact, but without the common threat of the Soviet Union, the alliance was fracturing over the divergent national interests of its members. The European Union had become Germany’s focus, and the bloc had come under intense pressure that made the prior alignment of all European countries more dubious. Germany needed the European Union. It needed it for the reasons that have existed since World War II: as a foundation of its relationship with France and as a means to ensure that national interest would not generate the kinds of conflicts that had existed in the past.

It needed the European Union for another reason as well. Germany is the second-largest exporter in the world. It exports to many countries, but Europe is a critical customer. The free-trade zone that was the foundation of the European Union was also one of the foundations of the German economy. Protectionism in general, but certainly protectionism in Europe, threatened Germany, whose industrial plant substantially outstripped its domestic consumption. The pricing of the euro aided German exports, and regulations in Brussels gave Germany other advantages. The European Union, as it existed between 1991 and 2008, was critical to Germany.

However, the European Union no longer functions as it once did. The economic dynamics of Europe have placed many countries at a substantial disadvantage, and the economic crisis of 2008 triggered a sovereign debt crisis and banking crisis in Europe.

There were two possible solutions in the broadest sense. One was that the countries in crisis impose austerity in order to find the resources to solve their problem. The other was that the prosperous part of Europe underwrites the debts, sparing these countries the burden of austerity. The solution that has been chosen is obviously a combination of the two, but the precise makeup of that combination was and remains a complex matter for negotiation.

Germany needs the European Union to survive for both political and economic reasons. The problem is that it is not clear that a stable economic solution can emerge that will be supported by the political systems in Europe.

Germany is prepared to bail out other European countries if they impose austerity and then take steps to make sure that the austerity is actually implemented to the degree necessary and that the crisis is not repeated. From Germany’s point of view, the roots of the crisis lie in the fiscal policies of the troubled countries. Therefore, the German price for underwriting part of the debt is that European bureaucrats, heavily oriented toward German policies, be effectively put in charge of the finances of countries receiving aid against default.

This would mean that these countries would not control either taxes or budgets through their political system. It would be an assault on democracy and national sovereignty. Obviously, there has been a great deal of opposition from potential recipients of aid, but it is also opposed by some countries that see it as something that would vastly increase the power of Germany. If you accept the German view, which is that the debt crisis was the result of reckless spending, then Germany’s proposal is reasonable. If you accept the view of southern Europe, which is that the crisis was the result of the European Union’s design, then what Germany is proposing is the imposition of German power via economics.

It is difficult to imagine a vast surrender of sovereignty to a German-dominated EU bureaucracy, whatever the economic cost. It is also difficult to imagine Germany underwriting the debt without some controls beyond promises; even if the European Union is vitally important to the Germans, German public opinion will not permit it. Finally, it is difficult to see how, in the long term, the Europeans can reconcile their differences on this issue. The issue must come to a head, if not in this financial crisis then in the next – and there is always a next crisis.

An Alternative Strategy

In the meantime, the basic framework of Europe has changed since 1991. Russia remains a shadow of the Soviet Union, but it has become a major exporter of natural gas. Germany depends on that natural gas even as it searches for alternatives. Russia is badly in need of technology, which Germany has in abundance. Germany does not want to invite in any more immigrants out of fear of instability. However, with a declining population, Germany must do something.

Russia also has a declining population, but even so, it has a surplus of workers, both unemployed and underemployed. If the workers cannot be brought to the factories, the factories can be brought to the workers. In short, there is substantial synergy between the Russian and German economies. Add to this that the Germans feel under heavy pressure from the United States to engage in actions the Germans want to be left out of, while the Russians see the Americans as a threat to their interests, and there are politico-military interests that Germany and Russia have in common.

NATO is badly frayed. The European Union is under tremendous pressure and national interests are now dominating European interests. Germany’s ability to use the European Union for economic ends has not dissipated but can no longer be relied on over the long term. Therefore, it follows that Germany must be considering an alternative strategy. Its relationship with Russia is such a strategy.

Germany is not an aggressive power. The foundation of its current strategy is its relationship with France in the context of the European Union. The current French government under President Nicolas Sarkozy is certainly committed to this relationship, but the French political system, like those of other European countries, is under intense pressure. The coming elections in France are uncertain, and the ones after that are even less predictable. The willingness of France to engage with Germany, which has a massive trade imbalance with France, is an unknown.

However, Germany’s strategic interest is not necessarily a relationship with France but a relationship with either France or Russia to avoid being surrounded by hostile powers. For Germany, a relationship with Russia does as well as one with France. ==>An ideal situation for Germany would be a Franco-German-Russian entente.<== Such an alliance has been tried in the past, but its weakness is that it would provide too much security to Germany, allowing it to be more assertive. Normally, France and Russia have opposed Germany, but in this case, it is certainly possible to have a continuation of the Franco-German alliance or a Russo-French alliance. Indeed, a three-way alliance might be possible as well.

Germany’s current strategy is to preserve the European Union and its relationship with France while drawing Russia closer into Europe. The difficulty of this strategy is that Germany’s trade policies are difficult for other European countries to manage, including France. If Germany faces an impossible situation with the European Union, the second strategic option would be a three-way alliance, with a modified European Union or perhaps outside of the EU structure. If France decides it has other interests, such as its idea of a Mediterranean Union, then a German-Russian relationship becomes a real possibility.

A German-Russian relationship would have the potential to tilt the balance of power in the world. The United States is currently the dominant power, but the combination of German technology and Russian resources – an idea dreamt of by many in the past – would become a challenge on a global basis. Of course, there are bad memories on both sides, and trust in the deepest sense would be hard to come by. But although alliances rely on trust, it does not necessarily have to be deep-seated trust.

Germany’s strategy, therefore, is still locked in the EU paradigm. However, if the EU paradigm becomes unsupportable, then other strategies will have to be found. The Russo-German relationship already exists and is deepening. Germany thinks of it in the context of the European Union, but if the European Union weakens, Russia becomes Germany’s natural alternative.

Stratfor.com: „Russia’s Plan to Disrupt U.S.-European Relations”

Sursa informationala: Stratfor.com
Autor: Lauren Goodrich

Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The crises come as Washington struggles over its many commitments in the world and over whether to focus on present events in Afghanistan or future events in Central Europe. Russia has exploited the U.S. dilemma, using its leverage in both arenas. However, if Moscow takes its aggressive moves too far, it could spark a backlash from the United States and Central Europe.

The Persisting Disagreement over BMD

The U.S. BMD scheme for Europe has long been a source of U.S.-Russian tensions. Washington argues that its European BMD program aims to counter threats emerging from the Middle East, namely Iran, but its missile defense installations in Romania and Poland are not slated to become operational until 2015 and 2018, respectively, by which time Russia believes the United States will have resolved its issues with Iran. Moscow thus sees U.S. missile defense strategy as more about the United States seeking to contain Russia than about Iran. Moscow does not fear that the United States is seeking to neutralize or erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent, however; the issue is the establishment of a physical U.S. military footprint in those two states — which in turn means a U.S. commitment there. Romania and Poland border the former Soviet Union, a region where Russia is regaining influence.

Russia previously pressured key states in the Bush-era BMD scheme, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, to reconsider acceding to such plans. This assertiveness peaked with its 2008 invasion of Georgia, which both proved that Moscow was willing to take military action and exposed the limits of U.S. security guarantees in the region. The Russian move in Georgia gave the Central Europeans much to think about, prompting some attempts to appease the Kremlin. Still, these states did not abandon all faith in the United States as a strategic counter to Russia.

Russia has since shifted its BMD strategy. Instead of categorically opposing the plan, Moscow proposed a cooperative, integrated scheme. The Kremlin reasoned that if Iran and other non-Russian threats were the real reason for expanding missile defense, then Russian involvement — which would strengthen the West’s defenses — would be welcomed. Russia’s BMD capabilities span the Eurasian continent, though their practical utility to and compatibility with U.S. systems is questionable. This plan was seen as a way to take a more conciliatory approach with the same end goal: blocking the placement of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe.

The United States and most of NATO refused Russia’s proposals, however, leaving the door open for the Kremlin to introduce a new defense strategy, which Russian President Dmitri Medvedev outlined Nov. 23. Medvedev emphasized that Russia had exercised the “political will” to open a fundamentally new chapter in relations with the United States and NATO, only to have the United States spurn the offer. U.S. resistance to Russian inclusion in the BMD system forced Moscow to make other arrangements to counter U.S. plans in Central Europe — precisely the outcome it had hoped for.

Medvedev also said that if the United States continues to refuse BMD cooperation with Russia, Moscow would carry out plans for the deployment of the Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missiles and the activation of an early-warning radar system in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. He said Russia also would consider the deployment of other Iskander systems, particularly along his country’s western and southern borders, and would hasten to fit its ballistic missiles with advanced maneuverable re-entry vehicles and penetration aids, a process that has long been under way. The prospect of Russian strategic weapons targeting BMD facilities was also raised. Medvedev added that more measures could be implemented to “neutralize the European component of the U.S. missile defense system,” concluding that all these steps could be avoided in favor of a new era of partnership between the United States and Russia if Washington so desired.

The U.S. Dilemma

The United States was expected to respond to Russia’s renewed strategy during the Dec. 8 meeting between NATO and Russian foreign ministers in Brussels. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton avoided doing so, however, reiterating that the BMD scheme was about Iran, not Russia. Clinton’s move highlights the dangerous U.S. position with regard to Russia. Washington has no intention of abandoning its commitment to Central Europe in the face of a resurging Russia, but commitments elsewhere in the world may prevent the United States from resisting Russia in the short term.

At present, Washington is struggling to halt the deterioration of relations with Pakistan, which have reached a new low after a U.S. helicopter strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border killed some two dozen Pakistani servicemen. After the strike, the Pakistanis forbade the shipment of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan across the Pakistani border, leaving the United States and its allies wholly dependent on the Northern Distribution Network, at least temporarily. Moscow used this as an opportunity to remind Washington that it could cut this alternative route, leaving NATO and the United States in a catastrophic position in Afghanistan — a move tied directly to Russia’s negotiations over missile defense.

While Russia has used previous threats against U.S. interests, such as increased support for Iran, as leverage in its BMD negotiations, its present threat marks a new dynamic. Washington called Moscow’s bluff on its threatened support for Iran, knowing Russia also did not want a strong Iran. But it cannot so easily dismiss the specter of interrupted supplies into Afghanistan, as this puts more than 130,000 U.S. and allied troops in a vulnerable position. Consequently, the United States must work to mitigate the BMD situation.

American Olive Branch or New Crisis?

In recent months, the United States has cultivated one potential olive branch to defuse short-term tensions. Previously, there was little the United States could offer Russia short of abandoning U.S. strategy in Central Europe. When tensions escalated in 2009 and 2010, the United States offered to facilitate large economic deals with Russia that included modernization and investment in strategic sectors, mainly information technology, space and energy. Since Russia had just launched its sister programs of modernization and privatization, it jumped on the proposal, reducing tensions and eventually joining U.S. initiatives such as sanctions against Iran. Now, the United States is extending another carrot: WTO membership.

Russia has sought WTO membership for 18 years. Even though it has the 10th largest economy in the world, it has failed to win accession to the 153-member body. Though the country’s extreme economic policies have given members plenty of reason to exclude Russia, the main barriers of late have been political. For its part, Moscow cares little about the actual economic benefits of WTO membership. The benefits it seeks are political, as being excluded from the WTO made it look like an economically backward country (though its exclusion has given it a convenient excuse to rail against the United States and Georgia).

As Russia sorted through its economic disputes with most WTO members, Georgia alone continued to block its bid because of the Russian occupation of the disputed Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In recent months, Georgia has dropped its opposition under U.S. pressure — pressure that originated from Washington’s need for something to offer the Russians. With all obstacles cleared, the WTO should approve Russia’s candidacy Dec. 15-16, apparently giving the United States the olive branch it sought.

Unfortunately for the United States, however, once Russia is voted in, each member-state must “recognize” Russia as a member. No WTO members, not even Georgia, have indicated that they intend to deny Russia recognition. But there is one country that cannot legally recognize Russian membership: the United States.

The United States still has a Soviet-era provision in federal law called the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which bars trade relations with certain countries guilty of human rights violations (namely, the Soviet Union). The measure continued to apply to Russia after the Soviet collapse, though every U.S. president has waived its provisions by decree since 1992. Only Congress can overturn it, however, and until it does so, the United States cannot recognize Russia as a WTO member.

The White House has called for the provision’s immediate repeal, but with Congress and the White House divided over so many issues, it seems unlikely the issue will be resolved swiftly — if at all — under the current Congress and presidency. This gives Russia another opportunity to increase U.S.-Russian tensions. Indeed, Moscow could noisily decry the insult of the United States making Russian WTO accession possible only to derail it.

Balancing Crisis and Strategy

Just how many crises in U.S.-Russian relations does Moscow want, and what is its goal? Moscow’s strategy involves using these crises with the United States to create uncertainty in Central Europe and to make the Europeans uncomfortable over perceptions that the United States has forced Russia to act the way it is acting. Thus, it is not a break between Russia and the United States that Moscow seeks but a break between Europe and the United States.

Indications are emerging that the Central Europeans are in fact growing nervous, particularly following Medvedev’s new defense strategy announcement. With the United States not responding to the renewed Russian aggression, many Europeans may be forgiven for wondering if the United States is planning to trade its relationship with Central Europe in the short term to ensure the supply lines via Russia into Afghanistan remain open. It is not that the Central Europeans want a warmer relationship with Russia, only that they may feel a need to hedge their relationship with the United States. This was seen this past week with Poland announcing it would be open to discussions with Russia over missile defense (albeit within the paradigm of separate BMD systems), and with the Czech Republic, a previous American missile defense partner, signing multibillion-dollar economic deals with Russia.

But with more opportunities arising for Russia to escalate tensions with the United States, Moscow must avoid triggering a massive crisis and rupture in relations. Should Russia go too far in its bid to create an uncomfortable situation for the Europeans, it could cause a strong European backlash against Russia and a unilateral unification with the United States on regional security issues. And it is in Russia’s interest to refrain from actually disrupting the Northern Distribution Network; Moscow is seeking to avoid both complications in the Afghan theater that could hurt Russian interests (one of which is keeping the United States tied down in Afghanistan) and a strong U.S. response in a number of other areas. Moscow must execute its strategy with precision to keep the United States caught between many commitments and Europe off balance — a complex balancing act for the Kremlin.

Stratfor.com: „Assessing the Damage of the European Banking Crisis”

Text+grafica+analiza+sursa informationala: Stratfor.com

Europe faces a banking crisis it has not wanted to admit even exists.

The formal authority on financial stability, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, made her institution’s opinion on European banking known back in August when she prompted the European Union to engage in an immediate 200 billion-euro bank recapitalization effort. The response was broad-based derision from Europeans at the local, national and EU bureaucratic levels. The vehemence directed at Lagarde was particularly notable as Lagarde is certainly in a position to know what she was talking about: Until July 5, her title was not IMF chief, but French finance minister. She has seen the books, and the books are bad. Due to European inaction, the IMF on Oct. 18 raised its estimate for recapitalization needs from 200 billion euros to 300 billion euros ($274 billion to $410 billion).

Sovereign Debt: The Expected Problem

The collapse in early October of Franco-Belgian bank Dexia, a large Northern European institution whose demise necessitated a state rescue, shattered European confidence. Now, Europeans are discussing their banking sector. A meeting of eurozone ministers Oct. 21 is largely dedicated to the topic, as is the Oct. 23 summit of EU heads of government. Yet European governments continue to consider the banking sector largely only within the context of the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.

This is exemplified in Europeans’ handling of the Greek situation. The primary reason Greece has not defaulted on its nearly 400-billion euro sovereign debt is that the rest of the eurozone is not forcing Greece to fully implement its agreed-upon austerity measures. Withholding bailout funds as punishment would trigger an immediate default and a cascade of disastrous effects across Europe. Loudly condemning Greek inaction while still slipping Athens bailout checks keeps that aspect of Europe’s crisis in a holding pattern. In the European mind — especially the Northern European mind — a handful of small countries that made poor decisions are responsible for the European debt crisis, and while the ensuing crisis may spread to the banks as a consequence, the banks themselves would be fine if only the sovereigns could get their acts together.

This is an incorrect assumption. If anything, Europe’s banks are as damaged as the governments that regulate them.

When evaluating a problem of such magnitude, one might as well begin with the problem as the Europeans see it — namely, that their banks’ biggest problem is rooted in their sovereign debt exposure.

The state-bank contagion problem is fairly straightforward within national borders. As a rule the largest purchaser of the debt of any particular European government will be banks located in the particular country. If a government goes bankrupt or is forced to partially default on its debt, its failure will trigger the failure of most of its banks. Greece does indeed provide a useful example. Until Greece joined the European Union in 1981, state-controlled institutions dominated its banking sector. These institutions’ primary reason for being was to support government financing, regardless of whether there was a political or economic rationale justifying that financing. The Greeks, however, have no monopoly on the practice of leaning on the banking sector to support state spending. In fact, this practice is the norm across Europe.

Spain’s regional banks, the cajas, have become infamous for serving as slush funds for regional governments, regardless of the government in question’s political affiliation. Were the cajas assets held to U.S. standards of what qualifies as a good or bad loan, half the cajas would be closed immediately and another third would be placed in receivership. Italian banks hold half of Italy’s 1.9 trillion euros in outstanding state debt. And lest anyone attempt to lay all the blame on Southern Europe, French and Belgian municipalities as well as the Belgian national government regularly used the aforementioned Dexia in a somewhat similar manner.

Yet much debt remains for outsiders to own, so when states crack, the damage will not be held internally. Half or more of the debt of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Belgium is in foreign hands, but like everything else in Europe the exposure is not balanced evenly — and this time, it is Northern Europe, not Southern Europe, that is exposed. French banks are more exposed than any other national sector, holding an amount equivalent to 8.5 percent of French gross domestic product (GDP) in the debt of the most financially distressed states (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Spain). Belgium comes in second with an exposure of roughly 5.5 percent of GDP, although that number excludes the roughly 45 percent of GDP Belgium’s banks hold in Belgian state debt.

When Europeans speak of the need to recapitalize their banks, creating firebreaks between cross-border sovereign debt exposure dominates their thoughts — which explains why the Europeans belatedly have seized upon the IMF’s original 200 billion-euro figure. The Europeans are hoping that if they can strike a series of deals that restructure a percentage of the debt owed by the Continent’s most financially strapped states, they will be able to halt the sovereign debt crisis in its tracks.

This plan is flawed. The figure, 200 billion euros, will not cover reasonable restructurings. The 50 percent writedowns or “haircuts” for Greece under discussion as part of a revised Greek bailout — likely to be announced at the end of the upcoming Oct. 23 EU summit — would absorb more than half of that 200 billion euros. A mere 8 percent haircut on Italian debt would absorb the remainder.

Moreover, Europe’s banking problems stretch far beyond sovereign debt. Before one can understand just how deep those problems go, we must examine the role European banks play in European society.

The Centrality of European Banking

Several differences between the European and American banking sectors exist. By far the most critical difference is that European banks are much more central to the functioning of European economies than American banks are to the U.S. economy. The reason is rooted in the geography of capital.

Maritime transport is cheaper than land transport by at least an order of magnitude once the costs of constructing road and rail infrastructure is factored in. Therefore, maritime economies will always have surplus capital compared to their land transport-based equivalents. Managing such excess capital requires banks, and so nearly all of the world’s banking centers form at points on navigable rivers where capital richness is at its most extreme. For example, New York is where the Hudson meets the Atlantic Octen, Chicago is at the southernmost extremity of the Great Lakes network, Geneva is near the head of navigation of the Rhone, and Vienna is located where the Danube breaks through the Alps-Carpathian gap.

Unity differentiates the U.S. and European banking system. The American maritime network comprises the interconnected rivers of the Greater Mississippi Basin linked into the Intracoastal Waterway, which allows for easy transport from the U.S.-Mexico border on the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. Europe’s maritime network is neither interlinked nor evenly shared. Northern Europe is blessed with a dozen easily navigable rivers, but none of the major rivers interconnect; each river, and thus each nation, has its own financial capital. The Danube, Europe’s longest river, drains in the opposite direction but cuts through mountains twice in doing so. Some European states have multiple navigable rivers: France and Germany each have three major ones. Arid and rugged Spain and Greece, in contrast, have none.

The unity of the American transport system means that all of its banks are interlinked, and so there is a need for a single regulatory structure. The disunity of European geography generates not only competing nationalities but also competing banking systems.

Moreover, Americans are used to far-flung and impersonal capital funding their activities (such as a bank in New York funding a project in Nebraska) because of the network’s large and singular nature. Not so in Europe. There, regional competition has enshrined banks as tools of state planning. French capital is used for French projects and other sources of capital are viewed with suspicion. Consequently, Americans only use bank loans to fund 31 percent of total private credit, with bond issuances (18 percent) and stock markets (51 percent) making up the balance. In the eurozone roughly 80 percent of private credit is bank-sourced. And instead of the United States’ single central bank, single bank guarantor and fiscal authority, Europe has dozens. Banking regulation has been expressly omitted from all European treaties to this point, instead remaining a national prerogative.

As a starting point, therefore, it must be understood that European banks are more central to the functioning of the European system than American banks are to the American system. And any problems that might erupt in the world of European banks will face a far more complicated restitution effort cluttered with overlapping, conflicting authorities colored by national biases.

Demographic Limitations

European banks also face less long-term growth. The largest piece of consumer spending in any economy is done by people in their 20s and 30s. This cohort is going to college, raising children and buying houses and cars. Yet people in their 20s and 30s are the weakest in terms of earning potential. High consumption plus low earning leads invariably to borrowing, and borrowing is banks’ mainstay. In the 1990s and 2000s much of Europe enjoyed a bulge in its population structure in precisely this young demographic — particularly in Southern European states — generating a great deal of economic activity, and from it a great deal of business for Europe’s banks.

But now, this demographic has grown up. Their earning potential has increased, while their big surge of demand is largely over, sharply curtailing their need for borrowing. In Spain and Greece, the younger end of population bulge is now 30; in Italy and France it is now 35; in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands it is 40; and in Belgium it is 45. Consumer borrowing in general and mortgage activity in particular probably have peaked. The small sizes of the replacement generations suggests there will be no recoveries within the next few decades. (Children born today will not hit their prime consumptive age for another 20 to 30 years.) With the total value of new consumer loans likely to stagnate (and more likely, decline) moving forward, if anything there are now too many European banks competing for a shrinking pool of consumer loans. Europe is thus not likely to be able to grow out of any banking problems it experiences. The one potential exception is in Central Europe, where the population bulges are on average 15 years younger than in Western Europe. The younger edge of the Polish bulge, for example, is only 25. In time, these states may be able to grow out of their problems. Either way, the most lucrative years for Western European banking are over.

Too Much Credit

Germany has extremely high capital accumulation and extremely competent economic management. One of the many results of this pairing is extremely inexpensive capital costs. When Germans — governments, corporations or individuals — borrow money, it is accepted as a near-fact that they will pay back what they owe, on time and in full. Reflecting the high supply and low risk, German borrowing rates for governments and corporations have long been in the low to mid single digits.

The further you move from Germany the less this pattern holds. Capital availability shrivels, management falters and the attitude toward contract law (or at least as defined by the Germans) becomes far less respectful. As such, Europe’s peripheral economies — most notably its smaller peripheral economies — have normally faced higher borrowing costs. Mortgage rates in Ireland stood near 20 percent less than a generation ago. Government borrowing rates in Greece have in the past topped 30 percent.

With that sort of difference, it is not difficult to see why many European states have striven for inclusion in first, the European Union, and second, the eurozone. Each step of the European integration process has brought them closer in financial terms to the ultra-low credit costs of Germany. The closer the German association, the greater the implicit belief that German financial resources would help them in a crisis (despite the fact that EU treaties explicitly rejected this).

The dawn of the eurozone era prompted lenders and investors to take this association to an extreme. Association with Germany shifted from lower lending rates to identical lending rates. The Greek government could borrow at rates that only Germany could demand in the past. Irish borrowers were able to qualify for 130 percent mortgages at 4 percent. Compounding matters, the collapse of borrowing costs and the explosion of loan activity occurred at the same time as Southern Europe’s demographic-driven consumption boom. It was the perfect storm for explosive banking growth, and it laid the groundwork for a financial collapse of unprecedented proportions.

Drastic increases in government debt are the most publicly visible outcome, but it is far from the only one. The least visible outcome is that extraordinarily cheap credit to consumers triggers an explosion in demand that local businesses cannot hope to fill. The result is unprecedented trade deficits as money borrowed from foreigners is used to purchase foreign goods. Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Spain — all states whose cheap labor when compared to the Western European core should encourage them to be massive exporters — instead have run chronic trade deficits in excess of 7 percent of GDP. Most routinely broke 10 percent. Such developments do not directly harm the banks, but as credit costs return to more rational levels — and in the ongoing debt crisis borrowing costs for most of the younger EU members have tripled and more — consumption is coming to a halt. In the few European markets that demographically may be able to generate consumption-based growth in the years ahead, credit is drying up.

Foreign Currency Risk

Much of this lending into weaker locations was carried out in foreign currencies. For the three states that successfully made the early sprint into the eurozone — Estonia, Slovenia and Slovakia — this was a nonfactor. For those that did not make the early leap into the eurozone it was a wonderful way to get something for nothing. Their association with the European Union resulted in the steady strengthening of their currencies. Since 2004, the Polish, Czech, Romanian and Hungarian currencies gained roughly one-third versus the euro, driving down the monthly payments on any euro-denominated loan. That inverted, however, in the 2008 financial crisis. Then, every regional currency but the Czech koruna (and Bulgarian lev, which is pegged to the euro) gave back their gains. For Central Europeans who had taken out loans when their currencies were at their highs, payments ballooned. More than 10 percent of Polish and Hungarian mortgages are now delinquent, largely because of currency movements.

New Banking ‘Empires’

The cheap credit of the eurozone’s first decade allowed several peripheral European states a rare opportunity to expand their network of influence, even if they were not in the eurozone themselves. They could borrow money from core European banking centers like Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands and pass that money on to previously credit-starved markets. In most cases, such credit was offered without the full cost-increase that these states’ poorer and smaller statures would have justified. After all, these would-be financial centers had to undercut the more established European financial centers if they were to gain meaningful market share. This pushed far more credit into Central Europe than the region otherwise would have attracted, speeding up the development process at the cost of poor underwriting and a proliferation of questionable lending practices. The most enthusiastic crafters of new banking empires have been Sweden, Austria, Spain and Greece.

  • Sweden has the happiest record of any of the states that engaged in such expansionary lending. Being one of the richest countries in Europe and yet not being a member of the eurozone, Sweden did not experience a credit expansion nearly as much as other states, instead it served as a conduit for that credit — augmented by its own — to its former imperial territories. Alone among the forgers of new banking empires, Sweden’s superior financial stability has allowed it (so far) to continue financial activities in its target markets — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark — despite the ongoing financial crisis. But instead of lending, Swedish banks are now purchasing regional banks outright. Swedish command of the Danish banking sector, for example, has increased by 80 percent since the crisis. Through its new local subsidiaries, Swedish banks now lend more in per capita terms to Danes than they do to their own citizens, and there is no longer a domestic Estonian banking sector — it is 97 percent Swedish-owned. Such expansionary activity is likely to continue so long as Sweden can sustain it, as there is a geopolitical angle to Sweden’s effort: It is seeking to deepen its regional influence not only for economic purposes, but also to mitigate the rising role of its longtime competitor, Russia.
  • Austria has tapped not only eurozone credit but also taken advantage of favorable carry trades to serve as a conduit for Swiss franc credit into Central Europe. Just as Sweden is using foreign capital to re-create its historic sphere of influence in the Baltic, Austria is doing the same in the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now, the majority of all mortgages in Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Romania — and a sizable minority in Austria — are denominated in foreign currencies, courtesy of Austrian banking activity. With the Swiss franc now locked in at record highs, many of these mortgages are not serviceable. The Hungarian government has felt forced to abrogate the terms of many of these loans, knowing that the Austrian banks are now so overexposed to Central Europe that they have no choice but to take the losses. As the financial crisis has continued apace, Austria has found itself with more exposure, fewer domestic resources and greater vulnerability to external forces than Sweden. So instead of being able to take advantage of regional weakness, it is finding itself losing market share both at home and in its would-be financial empire to Russia.
  • Spain’s banking empire isn’t even in Europe. Spanish firms BBVA-Compass and Santander have used the cheap euro credit to massively expand credit to Latin America. And Spain’s expansion took a somewhat novel route: The combination of cheap lending at home and in Latin America encouraged more than a million Latin American Spanish speakers to relocate to Spain and gain citizenship. To smooth the naturalization process, Madrid mandated that the new Spaniards be granted top-notch credit, a factor that only added to an already hyperactive construction sector. Spanish banks’ nearly 500 billion-euro exposure to Latin America is, for now, holding; only time will tell its impact to Spain’s bottom line.
  • The Greek government used its access to cheap credit to build up debt levels that are now the subject of much discussion across Europe. But much less is made of its banks, who encouraged consumers both at home and across the southern Balkans to increase their own debt levels. Being the least experienced of the four would-be financial centers, Greek banks offered the steepest credit breaks to the countries with the weakest repayment potential. Like Spain, Greece also did not make EU membership a condition for lending; vast volumes accordingly were fed into Macedonia, Serbia and even Albania.

Housing Bubbles

Large volumes of suddenly cheap credit made available to eager consumers obviously generated a series of sizable housing bubbles.

Spain’s tapping of European credit markets also underwrote the largest housing boom in Europe. More construction projects have been completed in Spain in recent years than in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom combined. The construction sector — both commercial and residential — has now collapsed and there are about 1 million homes now sitting vacant in a country with just 16.5 million families. Outstanding loans to various real estate interests total some 400 billion euros, all backed by collateral that has lost 20 percent of its value since the housing market peaked.

In relative terms, Ireland actually did more than Spain. At its peak, nearly 10 percent of Irish gross national product was dependent upon construction, with 70 percent of that purely from residences. Half of the mortgages extended during the Irish real estate boom were made at the peak of the market between 2006 and 2008. That sector remains in the midst of a fairly rapid collapse. Residential home prices have reduced by half since their peak in 2007 and are showing few signs of stabilizing. The Irish government hopes that with their eurozone bailout package, their banking sector will become functional again by 2020. Until then, Ireland in effect has no banking sector and has been financially sequestered from the rest of the eurozone.

Two other European states — the United Kingdom and Sweden — have both experienced massive increases in home price growth, and both suffered from price corrections due to the 2008 financial crisis. But prices in both markets have recovered smartly, with Sweden even bouncing back above its pre-crisis highs. Sweden, in fact, is still experiencing a massive housing boom, with annual mortgage credit still expanding at a 30 percent annualized rate.

Stratfor.com: „European Crisis: Precise Solutions in an Imprecise Reality Read more: European Crisis: Precise Solutions in an Imprecise Reality”

Autor: George Friedman

Sursa informationala: Stratfor.com

An important disconnect over the discussion of the future of the European Unionexists, one that divides into three parts. First, there is the question of whether the various plans put forward in Europe plausibly could result in success given the premises they are based on. Second, there is the question of whether the premises are realistic. And third, assuming they are realistic and the plans are in fact implemented, there is the question of whether they can save the European Union as it currently exists.

The plans all are financial solutions to a particular set of financial problems. But regardless of whether they are realistic in addressing the financial problem, the question of whether the financial issue really addresses the fundamental dilemma of Europe — which is political and geopolitical — remains.

STRATFOR has examined the plans for dealing with the financial crisis in Europe, and we find them technically plausible, even if they involve navigating something of a minefield. The eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would be expanded in scope and reach until it can handle the bailout of a major state, the default of a minor state and a banking crisis of unprecedented proportions. Given assumptions of the magnitude of the problem and assuming general compliance with the plans, there is a chance that the solution we see the Germans moving toward could work.

The extraordinary complexity of the plans being floated in Europe is important to note. It is extremely difficult for us to understand the specifics, and we suspect the politicians proposing it are also less than clear on them. We have found that the more uncertain the solution, the more complex it is. And the complexity of the European situation is less driven by the complexity of the economics than by the complexity of the politics. The problem is relatively easy: Banks and countries under massive financial pressure almost certainly will default without extensive aid. By giving them money, default can be avoided. But the political complexity of giving them money and the opposition by many Europeans on all sides to this solution contributes to the complexity. The greater the complexity, the more interests can be satisfied and — ultimately — the less understanding there is about what has been promised. Some subjects require complexity, and this is one of them. The degree of complexity in this case tells another tale.

The Foundation of the Crisis

Part of that tale is about two dubious assumptions at the foundation of the crisis. The first is the assumption that interested parties are genuinely aware of the size of the financial problems, and to the extent they are aware of it, that they are being honest about it. Ever since 2008, the singular truth of the financial community globally has been that they were either unaware of the extent of the financial problems on the whole or unaware of the realities of their own institutions. An alternative explanation is, of course, willful ignorance. This translates as the leaders being fully aware of the magnitude of the problem but understating it to buy time or to position themselves personally for better outcomes. It could also simply be a case of their being engaged in helpless hopefulness — that is, they knew there was nothing they could do but remained hopeful that someone else would find a solution. In sum, it combined incompetence, willful deception and willful delusion.

Consider the charge that the Greeks falsified financial data. While undoubtedly true, it misses the point. The job of bankers is to analyze data from loan applicants and to uncover falsehoods. The charge against the Greeks can thus be extended to bankers. How could they not have discovered the Greek deception?

There are two answers. The first is that they didn’t want to. The global system of compensation among financial institutions — from home mortgages to the purchase of government bonds — separates the transaction from the outcome. In other words, in many cases bankers are not held responsible for the outcome of the loan and are paid for the acquisition and resale of the loan alone. They are therefore not particularly aggressive in assessing the quality of a given loan. Frequently, they work with borrowers to make their debt look more attractive.

During the U.S. subprime crisis, in the mortgage crisis in Central Europe and in the sovereign debt and banking crisis in Europe, the system placed a premium on transactions, immunizing bankers from the repayment of loans. The validity of the numbers systematically were skewed toward the most favorable case.

More important, such numbers — not only of the status of loans but also about the economic and social status of the debtors — inherently are uncertain. This is crucial because part of the proposed European solution is the imposition of austerity on debtor nation states. The specifics of that austerity and its effect on the ability to repay after austerity heavily depend on the validity of available economic and social statistics.

There is an interesting belief, at least in the advanced industrial countries, that government-issued statistics reflect reality. The idea is that the people who issued these statistics are civil servants, impervious to political pressure and therefore likely providing accurate data. A host of reasons exists for looking at national statistics with a jaundiced eye beyond the risk of politicians pressuring civil servants.

For one, collecting statistics on a society is a daunting task. Even small countries have millions of people. The national statistical database is based on the assumption that all of the transactions and productions of these millions can be measured accurately, or at least measured within some knowable range of error. This is an overwhelming undertaking.

The solution is not the actual counting of transactions — an impossible task — but the creation of statistical models that make assumptions based on various methodologies. There are competing models that provide different outcomes based on sampling procedures or mathematical models. Even without pressure from politicians, civil servants and their academic mentors have personal commitments to certain models.

The center of gravity of our global statistical system, particularly those of advanced industrial countries, is that the selection of statistical models is frequently subject to complex disputes of experts who vehemently disagree with one another. This is also a point where political pressure can be applied. Given the disagreements, the decision on which methodology to use — from sampling to reporting — is subject to political decisions because the experts are divided and as contentious as all human beings are on any subject they care about.

And this is the point at which outside decisions are made, based on outcome, not on the subtleties of mathematical modeling. There is a connection between the numbers and reality, but the mathematics of a bailout rests on a statistical base of sand. It is always assumed that this is the case in the developing world. This creates a certain advantage, in that it is understood that the statistics are unreliable. By contrast, the advanced industrial countries have the hubris to believe that complex mathematics has solved the problem of knowing what hundreds of millions of people in billions of transactions actually have done.

A Culture of Opaque States

Compounding this challenge, the European Union has incorporated societies on its periphery that never have accepted the principle that states must be transparent, a problem exacerbated by EU regulations. Southern and Central Europeans always have been less impressed by the state than Germans, for example. This is not simply about paying taxes but about a broader distrust of government, something deeply embedded in history. Meanwhile, regulations from Brussels, whose tax and employment laws make entrepreneurship and small business ownership extraordinarily difficult, have forced a good deal of the economy “off the books,” aka underground.

While not an EU state, Moldova — said to be the poorest country in Europe — is an instructive example. When I visited it a year ago, the city (and villages outside the city) was filled with banks (from Societe Generale on down) and BMWs. There was clear poverty, but there also was a wealth and vibrancy not captured in intergovernmental statistics. The numbers spoke of grinding poverty; the streets spoke of a more complex reality.

What exactly is the state of the Greek, Spanish or Italian economy? That is hard to say. Official statistics that count the legal economy suffer from methodological uncertainty. Moreover, a good deal of the economy is not included in the numbers. One assessment says that 10 percent of all employees are off the books. Another says 40 percent of Greeks define themselves as self-employed. A third estimates that 40 percent of the total Greek economy is in the grey sector. When evaluating what tries to remain hidden, you’re reduced to guesswork. No one really knows, any more than anyone really knows how many illegal immigrants are participating in the U.S. economy. The difference, however, is that this knowledge is of profound importance to the entire EU bailout.

The level of indebtedness and the ownership of the debt of European banks and countries are as murky as who held asset-backed securities in the United States. Yet there is a precise plan designed to solve a problem that can’t be quantified or allocated. The complexity and precision of the plan fails to recognize the uncertainty because the governments and banks are loath to admit that they just aren’t certain. The banks have grown so big and their relationships so complex that the uncertainty principle parallels the state’s. The United States — where the same governing authority handles all fiscal, monetary and social policies — powered through such uncertainties in the 2008 financial crisis by sheer mass and speed. Europe, with dozens of (often competing) authorities, so far has found it impossible to exercise that option.

The countries that face default and austerity have no better understanding of their own internal reality than the financial institutions understand their own internal reality. Greek numbers on the consequences of austerity for government workers do not take into account that many of those workers show up to work only occasionally while working another job that is not taxed or known to the state statistical services. Thus, one has a complete split between the state and banking systems’ ability to honor debt obligations, the insistence on austerity and the social reality of the country.

Germany has always been different. Ever since the early 19th century German philosopher Georg Hegel declared the German civil service had ended history, the idea of the state as the embodiment of reason has meant something to Germans that it did not mean to others — in both a noble and a horrible sense. We are now at the noble end of the spectrum, but the idea that the state is the embodiment of reason still doesn’t capture the European reality. The Brussels bureaucracy is based on the German view that a disinterested civil servant can produce rational solutions that partisan politicians and self-interested citizens could not.

The founding concept of the European Union involves joining nations that do not share this view, and even find it bizarre, with a nation for which it is the cultural core. This has created the fundamental existential issue in the European Union.

The realization that the rational civil servants of Brussels and Berlin have failed to create systems that understand reality strikes at German self-perceptions. There is a willful urge to retain the perception that they understand what is going on. From the standpoint of Southern and Central Europe, the realization that the Germans genuinely thought that the states on the EU periphery had reached the level of precision of the German civil services (assuming Germany had in fact reached that stage), or that they even wanted to, is a shock. Their publics, which saw the European Union as a means of getting in on German prosperity without undergoing a massive social upheaval putting the state and the civil service — disciplined and rational — at the center of their society, experienced an even greater shock.

The political and geopolitical problem is simply this: Germany is unique in Europe in terms of both size and values. It tried to create a free trade zone based on German values allied with France that looked at the world in a much more complex way. The crisis we are seeing, which Germany is trying to solve with extraordinary complexity and precision, rests on a highly unstable base. First, the European banking system, like the American banking system, does not understand its status. Second, the entire mathematics of national statistics is inherently imprecise. Third, the peripheral countries of the European Union have economies that cannot be measured at all because their informal economies are massive. The fundamental principles and self-conception of Germany and Central Europe diverge massively. The elites of these countries might like to think of themselves as Europeans first — by the German definition — but the publics know they are not, and they don’t want to be.

The precision of the bailout schemes reveals the underlying misunderstanding of reality by Europe’s elites, and specifically by the Germans. To be more precise, this is willful misunderstanding. They all know that their precision rests on a foundation of uncertainty. They are buying time hoping that prosperity will return, mooting all of these problems. But the problem is that a precise solution to a vastly uncertain problem is unlikely to return Europe to its happy past. Reality — or rather the fundamental unreality of Europe — has returned.

In some sense, this is no different from the United States and China. But the United States has its Constitution and the Civil War’s consequences to hold itself together in the face of this problem, and China has the Communist Party’s security apparatus to give it a shot. Europe, by contrast, has nothing to hold it together but the promise of prosperity and the myth of the rational civil servant — the cultural and political side of the underlying geopolitical problem.

Stratfor.com: „The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism”

Sursa informationala: Stratfor.com

Autor: George Friedman

When I visited Europe in 2008 and before, the idea that Europe was not going to emerge as one united political entity was regarded as heresy by many leaders. The European enterprise was seen as a work in progress moving inevitably toward unification — a group of nations committed to a common fate. What was a core vision in 2008 is now gone. What was inconceivable — the primacy of the traditional nation-state — is now commonly discussed, and steps to devolve Europe in part or in whole (such as ejecting Greece from the eurozone) are being contemplated. This is not a trivial event.

Before 1492, Europe was a backwater of small nationalities struggling over a relatively small piece of cold, rainy land. But one technological change made Europe the center of the international system: deep-water navigation.

The ability to engage in long-range shipping safely allowed businesses on the Continent’s various navigable rivers to interact easily with each other, magnifying the rivers’ capital-generation capacity. Deep-water navigation also allowed many of the European nations to conquer vast extra-European empires. And the close proximity of those nations combined with ever more wealth allowed for technological innovation and advancement at a pace theretofore unheard of anywhere on the planet. As a whole, Europe became very rich, became engaged in very far-flung empire-building that redefined the human condition and became very good at making war. In short order, Europe went from being a cultural and economic backwater to being the engine of the world.

At home, Europe’s growing economic development was exceeded only by the growing ferocity of its conflicts. Abroad, Europe had achieved the ability to apply military force to achieve economic aims — and vice versa. The brutal exploitation of wealth from some places (South America in particular) and the thorough subjugation and imposed trading systems in others (East and South Asia in particular) created the foundation of the modern order. Such alternations of traditional systems increased the wealth of Europe dramatically.

But “engine” does not mean “united,” and Europe’s wealth was not spread evenly. Whichever country was benefitting had a decided advantage in that it had greater resources to devote to military power and could incentivize other countries to ally with it. The result ought to have been that the leading global empire would unite Europe under its flag. It never happened, although it was attempted repeatedly. Europe remained divided and at war with itself at the same time it was dominating and reshaping the world.

The reasons for this paradox are complex. For me, the key has always been the English Channel. Domination of Europe requires a massive land force. Domination of the world requires a navy heavily oriented toward maritime trade. No European power was optimized to cross the channel, defeat England and force it into Europe. The Spanish Armada, the French navy at Trafalgar and the Luftwaffe over Britain all failed to create the conditions for invasion and subjugation. Whatever happened in continental Europe, the English remained an independent force with a powerful navy of its own, able to manipulate the balance of power in Europe to keep European powers focused on each other and not on England (most of the time). And after the defeat of Napoleon, the Royal Navy created the most powerful empire Europe had seen, but it could not, by itself, dominate the Continent. (Other European geographic features obviously make unification of Europe difficult, but all of them have, at one point or another, been overcome. Except for the channel.)

Underlying Tensions

The tensions underlying Europe were bought to a head by German unification in 1871 and the need to accommodate Germany in the European system, of which Germany was both an integral and indigestible part. The result was two catastrophic general wars in Europe that began in 1914 and ended in 1945 with the occupation of Europe by the United States and the Soviet Union and the collapse of the European imperial system. Its economy shattered and its public plunged into a crisis of morale and a lack of confidence in the elites, Europe had neither the interest in nor appetite for empire.

Europe was exhausted not only by war but also by the internal psychosis of two of its major components. Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union might well have externally behaved according to predictable laws of geopolitics. Internally, these two countries went mad, slaughtering both their own citizens and citizens of countries they occupied for reasons that were barely comprehensible, let alone rationally explicable. From my point of view, the pressure and slaughter inflicted by two world wars on both countries created a collective mental breakdown.

I realize this is a woefully inadequate answer. But consider Europe after World War II. First, it had gone through about 450 years of global adventure and increasingly murderous wars, in the end squandering everything it had won. Internally, Europe watched a country like Germany — in some ways the highest expression of European civilization — plunge to levels of unprecedented barbarism. Finally, Europe saw the United States move from the edges of history to assume the role of an occupying force. The United States became the envy of the Europeans: stable, wealthy, unified and able to impose its economic, political and military will on major powers on a different continent. (The Russians were part of Europe and could be explained within the European paradigm. So while the Europeans may have disdained the Russians, the Russians were still viewed as poor cousins, part of the family playing by more or less European rules.) New and unprecedented, the United States towered over Europe, which went from dominance to psychosis to military, political and cultural subjugation in a twinkling of history’s eye.

Paradoxically, it was the United States that gave the first shape to Europe’s future, beginning with Western Europe. World War II’s outcome brought the United States and Soviet Union to the center of Germany, dividing it. A new war was possible, and the reality and risks of the Cold War were obvious. The United States needed a united Western Europe to contain the Soviets. It created NATO to integrate Europe and the United States politically and militarily. This created the principle of transnational organizations integrating Europe. The United States also encouraged economic cooperation both within Europe and between North America and Europe — in stark contrast to the mercantilist imperiums of recent history — giving rise to the European Union’s precursors. Over the decades of the Cold War, the Europeans committed themselves to a transnational project to create a united Europe of some sort in a way not fully defined.

There were two reasons for this thrust for unification. The first was the Cold War and collective defense. But the deeper reason was a hope for a European resurrection from the horrors of the 20th century. It was understood that German unification in 1871 created the conflicts and that the division of Germany in 1945 re-stabilized Europe. At the same time, Europe did not want to remain occupied or caught in an ongoing near-war situation. The Europeans were searching for a way to overcome their history.

One problem was the status of Germany. The deeper problem was nationalism. Not only had Europe failed to unite under a single flag via conquest but also World War I had shattered the major empires, creating a series of smaller states that had been fighting to be free. The argument was that it was nationalism, and not just German nationalism, that had created the 20th century. Europe’s task was therefore to overcome nationalism and create a structure in which Europe united and retained unique nations as cultural phenomena and not political or economic entities. At the same time, by embedding Germany in this process, the German problem would be solved as well.

A Means of Redemption

The European Union was designed not simply to be a useful economic tool but also to be a means of European redemption. The focus on economics was essential. It did not want to be a military alliance, since such alliances were the foundation of Europe’s tragedy. By focusing on economic matters while allowing military affairs to be linked to NATO and the United States, and by not creating a meaningful joint-European force, the Europeans avoided the part of their history that terrified them while pursuing the part that enticed them: economic prosperity. The idea was that free trade regulated by a central bureaucracy would suppress nationalism and create prosperity without abolishing national identity. The common currency — the euro — is the ultimate expression of this hope. The Europeans hoped that the existence of some Pan-European structure could grant wealth without surrendering the core of what it means to be French or Dutch or Italian.

Yet even during the post-World War II era of security and prosperity, some Europeans recoiled from the idea of a transfer of sovereignty. The consensus that many in the long line of supporters of European unification believed existed simply didn’t. And today’s euro crisis is the first serious crisis that Europe has faced in the years since, with nationalism beginning to re-emerge in full force.

In the end, Germans are Germans and Greeks are Greeks. Germany and Greece are different countries in different places with different value systems and interests. The idea of sacrificing for each other is a dubious concept. The idea of sacrificing for the European Union is a meaningless concept. The European Union has no moral claim on Europe beyond promising prosperity and offering a path to avoid conflict. These are not insignificant goals, but when the prosperity stops, a large part of the justification evaporates and the aversion to conflict (at least political discord) begins to dissolve.

Germany and Greece each have explanations for why the other is responsible for what has happened. For the Germans, it was the irresponsibility of the Greek government in buying political power with money it didn’t have to the point of falsifying economic data to obtain eurozone membership. For the Greeks, the problem is the hijacking of Europe by the Germans. Germany controls the eurozone’s monetary policy and has built a regulatory system that provides unfair privileges, so the Greeks believe, for Germany’s exports, economic structure and financial system. Each nation believes the other is taking advantage of the situation.

Political leaders are seeking accommodation, but their ability to accommodate each other is increasingly limited by public opinion growing more hostile not only to the particulars of the deal but to the principle of accommodation. The most important issue is not that Germany and Greece disagree (although they do, strongly) but that their publics are increasingly viewing each other as nationals of a foreign power who are pursuing their own selfish interests. Both sides say they want “more Europe,” but only if “more Europe” means more of what they want from the other.

Managing Sacrifice

Nationalism is the belief that your fate is bound up with your nation and your fellow citizens and you have an indifference to the fate of others. What the Europeanists tried to do was create institutions that made choosing between your own and others unnecessary. But they did this not with martial spirit or European myth, which horrified them. They made the argument prudently: You will like Europe because it will be prosperous, and with all of Europe prosperous there will be no need to choose between your nation and other nations. Their greatest claim was that Europe would not require sacrifice. To a people who lived through the 20th century, the absence of sacrifice was enormously seductive.

But, of course, prosperity comes and goes, and as it goes sacrifice is needed. And sacrifice — like wealth — is always unevenly distributed. That uneven distribution is determined not only by necessity but also by those who have power and control over institutions. From a national point of view, it is Germany and France that have the power, with the British happy to be out of the main fray. The weak are the rest of Europe, those who surrendered core sovereignty to the Germans and French and now face the burdens of managing sacrifice.

In the end, Europe will remain an enormously prosperous place. The net worth of Europe — its economic base, its intellectual capital, its organizational capabilities — is stunning. Those qualities do not evaporate. But crisis reshapes how they are managed, operated and distributed. This is now in question. Obviously, the future of the euro is now widely discussed. So the future of the free-trade zone will come to the fore. Germany is a massive economy by itself, exporting more per year than the gross domestic products of most of the world’s other nation-states. Does Greece or Portugal really want to give Germany a blank check to export what it wants with it, or would they prefer managed trade under their control? Play this forward past the euro crisis and the foundations of a unified Europe become questionable.

This is the stuff that banks and politicians need to worry about. The deeper worry is nationalism. European nationalism has always had a deeper engine than simply love of one’s own. It is also rooted in resentment of others. Europe is not necessarily unique in this, but it has experienced some of the greatest catastrophes in history because of it. Historically, the Europeans have hated well. We are very early in the process of accumulating grievances and remembering how to hate, but we have entered the process. How this is played out, how the politicians, financiers and media interpret these grievances, will have great implications for Europe. Out of it may come a broader sense of national betrayal, which was just what the European Union was supposed to prevent.

Stratfor.com: „Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy”

Criza capitalismului de cazinou este o criza de sistem. La burse se risipa 10 sau 12 de bugete ale Romaniei. Numai la bursa din Frankfurt astazi sau inregistrat pierderi in valoare de 300 de miliarde de euro. In cifre totale in 8 ore de tranzactie sa risipit de 3 ori datoria externa a Romaniei. Si in final aceste capitalismul de cazinou detine o criza de legitimitate. Un aspect pe care il analizeaza think-tankul nordamerican Stratfor.com.

Sursa informationala + text + idee: Stratfor.com

AutorGeorge Friedman

Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term “economy” by itself. They always used the term “political economy.” For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked. The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century. Smith understood that while an efficient market would emerge from individual choices, those choices were framed by the political system in which they were made, just as the political system was shaped by economic realities. For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.

The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy. Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life. On a global scale, or at least for most of the world’s major economies, there is a crisis of political economy. Let’s consider how it evolved.

Origin of the Crisis

As we all know, the origin of the current financial crisis was the subprime mortgage meltdown in the United States. To be more precise, it originated in a financial system generating paper assets whose value depended on the price of housing. It assumed that the price of homes would always rise and, at the very least, if the price fluctuated the value of the paper could still be determined. Neither proved to be true. The price of housing declined and, worse, the value of the paper assets became indeterminate. This placed the entire American financial system in a state of gridlock and the crisis spilled over into Europe, where many financial institutions had purchased the paper as well.

From the standpoint of economics, this was essentially a financial crisis: who made or lost money and how much. From the standpoint of political economy it raised a different question: the legitimacy of the financial elite. Think of a national system as a series of subsystems — political, economic, military and so on. Then think of the economic system as being divisible into subsystems — various corporate verticals with their own elites, with one of the verticals being the financial system. Obviously, this oversimplifies the situation, but I’m doing that to make a point. One of the systems, the financial system, failed, and this failure was due to decisions made by the financial elite. This created a massive political problem centered not so much on confidence in any particular financial instrument but on the competence and honesty of the financial elite itself. A sense emerged that the financial elite was either stupid or dishonest or both. The idea was that the financial elite had violated all principles of fiduciary, social and moral responsibility in seeking its own personal gain at the expense of society as a whole.

Fair or not, this perception created a massive political crisis. This was the true systemic crisis, compared to which the crisis of the financial institutions was trivial. The question was whether the political system was capable not merely of fixing the crisis but also of holding the perpetrators responsible. Alternatively, if the financial crisis did not involve criminality, how could the political system not have created laws to render such actions criminal? Was the political elite in collusion with the financial elite?

There was a crisis of confidence in the financial system and a crisis of confidence in the political system. The U.S. government’s actions in September 2008 were designed first to deal with the failures of the financial system. Many expected this would be followed by dealing with the failures of the financial elite, but this is perceived not to have happened. Indeed, the perception is that having spent large sums of money to stabilize the financial system, the political elite allowed the financial elite to manage the system to its benefit.

This generated the second crisis — the crisis of the political elite. The Tea Party movement emerged in part as critics of the political elite, focusing on the measures taken to stabilize the system and arguing that it had created a new financial crisis, this time in excessive sovereign debt. The Tea Party’s perception was extreme, but the idea was that the political elite had solved the financial problem both by generating massive debt and by accumulating excessive state power. Its argument was that the political elite used the financial crisis to dramatically increase the power of the state (health care reform was the poster child for this) while mismanaging the financial system through excessive sovereign debt.

The Crisis in Europe

The sovereign debt question also created both a financial crisis and then a political crisis in Europe. While the American financial crisis certainly affected Europe, the European political crisis was deepened by the resulting recession. There had long been a minority in Europe who felt that the European Union had been constructed either to support the financial elite at the expense of the broader population or to strengthen Northern Europe, particularly France and Germany, at the expense of the periphery — or both. What had been a minority view was strengthened by the recession.

The European crisis paralleled the American crisis in that financial institutions were bailed out. But the deeper crisis was that Europe did not act as a single unit to deal with all European banks but instead worked on a national basis, with each nation focused on its own banks and the European Central Bank seeming to favor Northern Europe in general and Germany in particular. This became the theme particularly when the recession generated disproportionate crises in peripheral countries like Greece.

There are two narratives to the story. One is the German version, which has become the common explanation. It holds that Greece wound up in a sovereign debt crisis because of the irresponsibility of the Greek government in maintaining social welfare programs in excess of what it could fund, and now the Greeks were expecting others, particularly the Germans, to bail them out.

The Greek narrative, which is less noted, was that the Germans rigged the European Union in their favor. Germany is the world’s third-largest exporter, after China and the United States (and closing rapidly on the No. 2 spot). By forming a free trade zone, the Germans created captive markets for their goods. During the prosperity of the first 20 years or so, this was hidden beneath general growth. But once a crisis hit, the inability of Greece to devalue its money — which, as the euro, was controlled by the European Central Bank — and the ability of Germany to continue exporting without any ability of Greece to control those exports exacerbated Greece’s recession, leading to a sovereign debt crisis. Moreover, the regulations generated by Brussels so enhanced the German position that Greece was helpless.

Which narrative is true is not the point. The point is that Europe is facing two political crises generated by economics. One crisis is similar to the American one, which is the belief that Europe’s political elite protected the financial elite. The other is a distinctly European one, a regional crisis in which parts of Europe have come to distrust each other rather vocally. This could become an existential crisis for the European Union.

The Crisis in China

The American and European crises struck hard at China, which, as the world’s largest export economy, is a hostage to external demand, particularly from the United States and Europe. When the United States and Europe went into recession, the Chinese government faced an unemployment crisis. If factories closed, workers would be unemployed, and unemployment in China could lead to massive social instability. The Chinese government had two responses. The first was to keep factories going by encouraging price reductions to the point where profit margins on exports evaporated. The second was to provide unprecedented amounts of credit to enterprises facing default on debts in order to keep them in business.

The strategy worked, of course, but only at the cost of substantial inflation. This led to a second crisis, where workers faced the contraction of already small incomes. The response was to increase incomes, which in turn increased the cost of goods exported once again, making China’s wage rates less competitive, for example, than Mexico’s.

China had previously encouraged entrepreneurs. This was easy when Europe and the United States were booming. Now, the rational move by entrepreneurs was to go offshore or lay off workers, or both. The Chinese government couldn’t afford this, so it began to intrude more and more into the economy. The political elite sought to stabilize the situation — and their own positions — by increasing controls on the financial and other corporate elites.

In different ways, that is what happened in all three places — the United States, Europe and China — at least as first steps. In the United States, the first impulse was to regulate the financial sector, stimulate the economy and increase control over sectors of the economy. In Europe, where there were already substantial controls over the economy, the political elite started to parse how those controls would work and who would benefit more. In China, where the political elite always retained implicit power over the economy, that power was increased. In all three cases, the first impulse was to use political controls.

In all three, this generated resistance. In the United States, the Tea Party was simply the most active and effective manifestation of that resistance. It went beyond them. In Europe, the resistance came from anti-Europeanists (and anti-immigration forces that blamed the European Union’s open border policies for uncontrolled immigration). It also came from political elites of countries like Ireland who were confronting the political elites of other countries. In China, the resistance has come from those being hurt by inflation, both consumers and business interests whose exports are less competitive and profitable.

Not every significant economy is caught in this crisis. Russia went through this crisis years ago and had already tilted toward the political elite’s control over the economy. Brazil and India have not experienced the extremes of China, but then they haven’t had the extreme growth rates of China. But when the United States, Europe and China go into a crisis of this sort, it can reasonably be said that the center of gravity of the world’s economy and most of its military power is in crisis. It is not a trivial moment.

Crisis does not mean collapse. The United States has substantial political legitimacy to draw on. Europe has less but its constituent nations are strong. China’s Communist Party is a formidable entity but it is no longer dealing with a financial crisis. It is dealing with a political crisis over the manner in which the political elite has managed the financial crisis. It is this political crisis that is most dangerous, because as the political elite weakens it loses the ability to manage and control other elites.

It is vital to understand that this is not an ideological challenge. Left-wingers opposing globalization and right-wingers opposing immigration are engaged in the same process — challenging the legitimacy of the elites. Nor is it simply a class issue. The challenge emanates from many areas. The challengers are not yet the majority, but they are not so far away from it as to be discounted. The real problem is that, while the challenge to the elites goes on, the profound differences in the challengers make an alternative political elite difficult to imagine.

The Crisis of Legitimacy

This, then, is the third crisis that can emerge: that the elites become delegitimized and all that there is to replace them is a deeply divided and hostile force, united in hostility to the elites but without any coherent ideology of its own. In the United States this would lead to paralysis. In Europe it would lead to a devolution to the nation-state. In China it would lead to regional fragmentation and conflict.

These are all extreme outcomes and there are many arrestors. But we cannot understand what is going on without understanding two things. The first is that the political economic crisis, if not global, is at least widespread, and uprisings elsewhere have their own roots but are linked in some ways to this crisis. The second is that the crisis is an economic problem that has triggered a political problem, which in turn is making the economic problem worse.

The followers of Adam Smith may believe in an autonomous economic sphere disengaged from politics, but Adam Smith was far more subtle. That’s why he called his greatest book the Wealth of Nations. It was about wealth, but it was also about nations. It was a work of political economy that teaches us a great deal about the moment we are in.

Analiza Stratfor asupra crizei euro (II)

Prestigiosul think-tank american Strafor.com continua sa analizeze criza zonei euro. In mai 2010 Stratfor.com prevedea defaultul Greciei. Articolul poate fi accesat aici: Stratfor.com

Text+info+sursa informationala: Stratfor.com

Autori: Peter Zeihan and Marko Papic

Seventeen months ago, STRATFOR described how the future of Europe was bound to the decision-making processes in Germany. Throughout the post-World War II era, other European countries treated Germany as a feeding trough, bleeding the country for resources (primarily financial) in order to smooth over the rougher portions of their systems. Considering the carnage wrought in World War II, most Europeans — and even many Germans — considered this perfectly reasonable right up to the current decade. Germany dutifully followed the orders of the others, most notably the French, and wrote check after check to underwrite European solidarity.

However, with the end of the Cold War and German reunification, the Germans began to stand up for themselves once again. Europe’s contemporary financial crisis can be as complicated as one wants to make it, but strip away all the talk of bonds, defaults and credit-default swaps and the core of the matter consists of these three points:

  • Europe cannot function as a unified entity unless someone is in control.
  • At present, Germany is the only country with a large enough economy and population to achieve that control.
  • Being in control comes with a cost: It requires deep and ongoing financial support for the European Union’s weaker members.

What happened since STRATFOR published Germany’s Choice was a debate within Germany about how central the European Union was to German interests and how much the Germans were willing to pay to keep it intact. With their July 22 approval of a new bailout mechanism — from which the Greeks immediately received another 109 billion euros — the Germans made clear their answers to those questions, and with that decision, Europe enters a new era.

The Origins of the Eurozone

The foundations of the European Union were laid in the early post-World War II years, but the critical event happened in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on Monetary Union. In that treaty, the Europeans committed themselves to a common currency and monetary system while scrupulously maintaining national control of fiscal policy, finance and banking. They would share capital but not banks, interest rates but not tax policy. They would also share a currency but none of the political mechanisms required to manage an economy. One of the many inevitable consequences of this was that governments and investors alike assumed that Germany’s support for the new common currency was total, that the Germans would back any government that participated fully in Maastricht. As a result, the ability of weaker eurozone members to borrow was drastically improved. In Greece in particular, the rate on government bonds dropped from an 18 percentage-point premium over German bonds to less than 1 percentage point in less than a decade. To put that into context, borrowers of $200,000 mortgages would see their monthly payments drop by $2,500.

Faced with unprecedentedly low capital costs, parts of Europe that had not been economically dynamic in centuries — in some cases, millennia — sprang to life. Ireland, Greece, Iberia and southern Italy all experienced the strongest growth they had known in generations. But they were not borrowing money generated locally — they were not even borrowing against their own income potential. Such borrowing was not simply a government affair. Local banks that normally faced steep financing costs could now access capital as if they were headquartered in Frankfurt and servicing Germans. The cheap credit flooded every corner of the eurozone. It was a subprime mortgage frenzy on a multinational scale, and the party couldn’t last forever. The 2008 global financial crisis forced a reckoning all over the world, and in the traditionally poorer parts of Europe the process unearthed the political-financial disconnects of Maastricht.

The investment community has been driving the issue ever since. Once investors perceived that there was no direct link between the German government and Greek debt, they started to again think of Greece on its own merits. The rate charged for Greece to borrow started creeping up again, breaking 16 percent at its height. To extend the mortgage comparison, the Greek “house” now cost an extra $2,000 a month to maintain compared to the mid-2000s. A default was not just inevitable but imminent, and all eyes turned to the Germans.

A Temporary Solution

It is easy to see why the Germans did not simply immediately write a check. Doing that for the Greeks (and others) would have merely sent more money into the same system that generated the crisis in the first place. That said, the Germans couldn’t simply let the Greeks sink. Despite its flaws, the system that currently manages Europe has granted Germany economic wealth of global reach without costing a single German life. Given the horrors of World War II, this was not something to be breezily discarded. No country in Europe has benefited more from the eurozone than Germany. For the German elite, the eurozone was an easy means of making Germany matter on a global stage without the sort of military revitalization that would have spawned panic across Europe and the former Soviet Union. And it also made the Germans rich.

But this was not obvious to the average German voter. From this voter’s point of view, Germany had already picked up the tab for Europe three times: first in paying for European institutions throughout the history of the union, second in paying for all of the costs of German reunification and third in accepting a mismatched deutschemark-euro conversion rate when the euro was launched while most other EU states hardwired in a currency advantage. To compensate for those sacrifices, the Germans have been forced to partially dismantle their much-loved welfare state while the Greeks (and others) have taken advantage of German credit to expand theirs.

Germany’s choice was not a pleasant one: Either let the structures of the past two generations fall apart and write off the possibility of Europe becoming a great power or salvage the eurozone by underwriting two trillion euros of debt issued by eurozone governments every year.

Beset with such a weighty decision, the Germans dealt with the immediate Greek problem of early 2010 by dithering. Even the bailout fund known as the European Financial Security Facility (EFSF) — was at best a temporary patch. The German leadership had to balance messages and plans while they decided what they really wanted. That meant reassuring the other eurozone states that Berlin still cared while assuaging investor fears and pandering to a large and angry anti-bailout constituency at home. With so many audiences to speak to, it is not at all surprising that Berlin chose a solution that was sub-optimal throughout the crisis.

That sub-optimal solution is the EFSF, a bailout mechanism whose bonds enjoyed full government guarantees from the healthy eurozone states, most notably Germany. Because of those guarantees, the EFSF was able to raise funds on the bond market and then funnel that capital to the distressed states in exchange for austerity programs. Unlike previous EU institutions (which the Germans strongly influence), the EFSF takes its orders from the Germans. The mechanism is not enshrined in EU treaties; it is instead a private bank, the director of which is German. The EFSF worked as a patch but eventually proved insufficient. All the EFSF bailouts did was buy a little time until investors could do the math and realize that even with bailouts the distressed states would never be able to grow out of their mountains of debt. These states had engorged themselves on cheap credit so much during the euro’s first decade that even 273 billion euros of bailouts was insufficient. This issue came to a boil over the past few weeks in Greece. Faced with the futility of yet another stopgap solution to the eurozone’s financial woes, the Germans finally made a tough decision.

The New EFSF

The result was an EFSF redesign. Under the new system the distressed states can now access — with German permission — all the capital they need from the fund without having to go back repeatedly to the EU Council of Ministers. The maturity on all such EFSF credit has been increased from 7.5 years to as much as 40 years, while the cost of that credit has been slashed to whatever the market charges the EFSF itself to raise it (right now that’s about 3.5 percent, far lower than what the peripheral — and even some not-so-peripheral — countries could access on the international bond markets). All outstanding debts, including the previous EFSF programs, can be reworked under the new rules. The EFSF has been granted the ability to participate directly in the bond market by buying the government debt of states that cannot find anyone else interested, or even act pre-emptively should future crises threaten, without needing to first negotiate a bailout program. The EFSF can even extend credit to states that were considering internal bailouts of their banking systems. It is a massive debt consolidation program for both private and public sectors. In order to get the money, distressed states merely have to do whatever Germany — the manager of the fund — wants. The decision-making occurs within the fund, not at the EU institutional level.

In practical terms, these changes cause two major things to happen. First, they essentially remove any potential cap on the amount of money that the EFSF can raise, eliminating concerns that the fund is insufficiently stocked. Technically, the fund is still operating with a 440 billion-euro ceiling, but now that the Germans have fully committed themselves, that number is a mere technicality (it was German reticence before that kept the EFSF’s funding limit so “low”).

Second, all of the distressed states’ outstanding bonds will be refinanced at lower rates over longer maturities, so there will no longer be very many “Greek” or “Portuguese” bonds. Under the EFSF all of this debt will in essence be a sort of “eurobond,” a new class of bond in Europe upon which the weak states utterly depend and which the Germans utterly control. For states that experience problems, almost all of their financial existence will now be wrapped up in the EFSF structure. Accepting EFSF assistance means accepting a surrender of financial autonomy to the German commanders of the EFSF. For now, that means accepting German-designed austerity programs, but there is nothing that forces the Germans to limit their conditions to the purely financial/fiscal.

For all practical purposes, the next chapter of history has now opened in Europe. Regardless of intentions, Germany has just experienced an important development in its ability to influence fellow EU member states — particularly those experiencing financial troubles. It can now easily usurp huge amounts of national sovereignty. Rather than constraining Germany’s geopolitical potential, the European Union now enhances it; Germany is on the verge of once again becoming a great power. This hardly means that a regeneration of the Wehrmacht is imminent, but Germany’s re-emergence does force a radical rethinking of the European and Eurasian architectures.

Reactions to the New Europe

Every state will react to this new world differently. The French are both thrilled and terrified — thrilled that the Germans have finally agreed to commit the resources required to make the European Union work and terrified that Berlin has found a way to do it that preserves German control of those resources. The French realize that they are losing control of Europe, and fast. France designed the European Union to explicitly contain German power so it could never be harmed again while harnessing that power to fuel a French rise to greatness. The French nightmare scenario of an unrestrained Germany is now possible.

The British are feeling extremely thoughtful. They have always been the outsiders in the European Union, joining primarily so that they can put up obstacles from time to time. With the Germans now asserting financial control outside of EU structures, the all-important U.K. veto is now largely useless. Just as the Germans are in need of a national debate about their role in the world, the British are in need of a national debate about their role in Europe. The Europe that was a cage for Germany is no more, which means that the United Kingdom is now a member of different sort of organization that may or may not serve its purposes.

The Russians are feeling opportunistic. They have always been distrustful of the European Union, since it — like NATO — is an organization formed in part to keep them out. In recent years the union has farmed out its foreign policy to whatever state was most impacted by the issue in question, and in many cases these states has been former Soviet satellites in Central Europe, all of which have an axe to grind. With Germany rising to leadership, the Russians have just one decision-maker to deal with. Between Germany’s need for natural gas and Russia’s ample export capacity, a German-Russian partnership is blooming. It is not that the Russians are unconcerned about the possibilities of strong German power — the memories of the Great Patriotic War burn far too hot and bright for that — but now there is a belt of 12 countries between the two powers. The Russian-German bilateral relationship will not be perfect, but there is another chapter of history to be written before the Germans and Russians need to worry seriously about each other.

Those 12 countries are trapped between rising German and consolidating Russian power. For all practical purposes, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova have already been reintegrated into the Russian sphere. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are finding themselves under ever-stronger German influence but are fighting to retain their independence. As much as the nine distrust the Russians and Germans, however, they have no alternative at present.

The obvious solution for these “Intermarium” states — as well as for the French — is sponsorship by the United States. But the Americans are distracted and contemplating a new period of isolationism, forcing the nine to consider other, less palatable, options. These include everything from a local Intermarium alliance that would be questionable at best to picking either the Russians or Germans and suing for terms. France’s nightmare scenario is on the horizon, but for these nine states — which labored under the Soviet lash only 22 years ago — it is front and center.

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