By Richard Conquest
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This means that countries such as Spain and Italy will have to continue to fund their current account deficits by increasing their external debt. 43 The imbalances among the major economies are imitated also by the smaller players as the following chart makes clear. The chart includes the IMF’s assessment of the immediate prospects and these at best amount to a stabilisation of current account positions and most certainly not any notion of a correction of these serous imbalances. 44 The following chart indicates clearly enough the divergent paths of the payments positions of the major players in Europe.
How could it be otherwise? If competitiveness is lost and profit margins squeezed then how could we expect investment to expand – or even to be sustained? This situation has been described by one Italian economist as being tantamount to ‘the de-industrialisation of Italy’. 34 EUROPE NORTH AND SOUTH: UNIT LABOUR COSTS:2000 =100 130 SPAIN 125 120 ITALY Index 115 110 GERMANY 105 100 95 NETHERLANDS Q1 Q3 00 Q1 Q3 01 Italy Q1 Q3 02 Q3 Q1 Q3 Q1 Q3 Q1 Q3 06 05 04 03 Germany Spain, Cal Adj Q1 Q1 Q3 07 Q1 Q3 Q1 Q3 Q1 Q3 10 09 08 Eurostat, Netherlands, Constant Prices, Cal Adj Source: Reuters EcoWin This grim situation has prompted intermittent debate in Italy’s political and economic circles about the desirability or not of that country remaining within the Eurozone – whatever fatuous noises Trichet might make on this issue.
Jean Claude Juncker, a former Finance Minister and Prime Minister of Luxembourg, has for long advocated the issuance of European ‘government’ bonds because in this way Greece (for example) as an issuer of sovereign debt would no longer be so identifiable. Naturally, the German government of Chancellor Merkel is fundamentally opposed to this scheme which is also supported, shamefully, by the ‘President’ of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. The ‘Presidents’ advancement of the idea has fallen mostly upon deaf ears: it would reward the fiscally profligate by reducing their borrowing costs thereby encouraging yet more borrowing.