According to the popular metaphor, probably dating back to the first railway tunnels, in the late 19th century, we may soon see in Europe the light at the end of the tunnel, since it would be possible, in an optimistic vein, to think that the crisis of the euro is approaching its resolution and that a lasting solution will soon be implemented.
Indeed, if the council of the European Central Bank decides, at its meeting on 6 September, to adopt the plan on which its experts are working on, on the initiative of Mario Draghi, it will intervene to lower the interest rates on loans of the peripheral countries, by buying them as necessary to break the speculation. This new instrument, revolutionary, would reduce the cost of sovereign debt, like the previous instrument created by the ECB, the LTRO, introduced in late December last year, had succeeded in decreasing the cost of borrowing for commercial banks, and like the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the next successor to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), will provide for its long-term financing. With these three tools, a low-cost financing of the European economy will be guaranteed; the euro bonds, long-awaited, will be implicitly in place; and Europe will have the necessary time to carry out its reforms and achieve growth.
Two kinds of obstacles jeopardise the feasibility of this scenario.
On the one hand, the possibility cannot be excluded that the ECB does not take any decision on 6 September, waiting for the validation of the European Treaty and the European Stability Mechanism, in Germany by the Constitutional Court, on 12 September, the same day in the Netherlands, by the voters, who will vote for their General elections and a few days later, in early October, in France, by the parliamentarians, who must ratify the new EU treaty.
On the other hand, because the ECB cannot take the risk to give struggling countries the impression that their reforms are no longer necessary because all the money in the world would be available. It must thus have, in order to trigger these mechanisms that reduce the price of government bonds, the certainties that some serious reforms will take place.
And this is the most difficult part: who can define these programs? Who can ensure that they will be implemented and monitored? In Greece, where the country is surviving by printing money until the next loan? In Spain, where the government is refusing to see the seriousness of the situation? In Italy, where the recession can only cast a bad light over the goodwill and efforts of Mario Monti?
There is currently no credible answer to these questions, the Commission has no legal authority in this; the Eurogroup has no legitimacy in this; the IMF is not welcome in a problem that must be dealt with among Europeans. And the ECB cannot take a role in the monitoring of economic policies, which must remain in the hands of elected officials.
Therefore, as soon as possible, it is necessary to create, within the eurozone, a real political body, with a Finance Minister of the eurozone, with the power and legitimacy, subject to the control of the European parliamentarians from the countries within the zone, to define and control the implementation of reform programs in each country. Programs economically efficient and socially fair.
If such a mechanism is not quickly put in place, the daring touches and recent innovations of the ECB will indeed have been in vain. And the Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and other crises will end with the demise of the euro.
The light that we believe we are seeing at the end of the tunnel today thus will be known as of the locomotive coming to knock us down.