【英语财经】欧元是怎样得救的(下) How the euro was saved II

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2014-5-19 07:11

小艾摘要: ‘A sign of weakness’For months the Obama administration had been watching the eurozone crisis with frustration and mounting concern. Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, and his team in Washingt ...
How the euro was saved II
‘A sign of weakness’

For months the Obama administration had been watching the eurozone crisis with frustration and mounting concern. Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, and his team in Washington had tried to impart lessons learnt during their banking crisis – namely that only a huge wall of public money would calm panicked investors. Despite repeated high-profile European tours by Mr Geithner, and more discreet visits by his deputies, the Americans felt eurozone leaders still fell short.

In some quarters, the White House was suspected of playing politics. “The Americans had only one objective, which is fully understandable,” said one European who dealt directly with Mr Geithner. “The eurozone has to be saved because otherwise we’ll enter into a depression in Europe, and this will impact the economy of the US and my re-election.” US denials were not entirely believed in Europe.

The awkwardness was epitomised by Washington’s relationship with Ms Merkel, who occasionally found US intervention improper and unwelcome. Berlin had pushed for the Washington-based IMF to be part of the crisis response. But on occasions when Mr Obama weighed in, Ms Merkel would tell colleagues that European decisions should be made by Europeans.

Although the two leaders appear similarly cerebral and unemotional, people close to Ms Merkel say their styles are fundamentally different. Mr Obama can be professorial and lecturing, something Ms Merkel finds off-putting. Ms Merkel shuns such academic musings and is more short-term and tactical in her decision-making.

Still, many in Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris welcomed American intervention, particularly as a counterweight to Berlin. US officials say they were frequently dragged into crisis disputes by competing national capitals and urged to press the Germans to move more decisively. On other occasions, they say, the German government called on Washington to push struggling eurozone countries to implement promised reforms.

Regardless of whether European leaders welcomed US intervention, they felt Mr Obama was on top of the eurozone portfolio, something they found remarkable for a leader with so much on his plate.

Yet when eurozone leaders were summoned again by Mr Sarkozy at 9.30pm that night in Cannes, several were surprised to find Mr Obama chairing the meeting. “It was strange,” said a member of the German delegation. “It was also a signal that Europe was not able to do that; it was a sign of weakness.”

Many in the room expected the evening to be dedicated to persuading Mr Berlusconi to accept IMF assistance. The Italians had rejected it that morning, arguing it would create the impression they could not handle the crisis on their own, while providing insufficient resources to deal with the fallout. They countered with an offer to accept IMF monitoring, but not funds.

But Mr Obama opened the session with something different. He had a new plan to increase the size of the eurozone firewall – an idea that put Germany front and centre.

The decision by Mr Sarkozy to cede the chair to Mr Obama, consciously or not, should not have come as a surprise. Since the outset of the crisis, Paris and Washington had almost identical recipes for solving it: a firewall of such size that no bond trader would question whether the eurozone had sufficient funds or political will to rescue the heavily indebted south.

To both Mr Geithner and his French counterparts, the most obvious source for that firewall was the ECB, which literally has the power to print money. The US had demonstrated the crisis-fighting power of a central bank when the Federal Reserve bought up huge tracts of Treasuries in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ collapse. But Berlin has long opposed using a central bank to fund governments.

It was a matter of principle

German opposition was rooted in its dark history: the hyperinflation of the interwar years that helped doom the Weimar Republic had been caused, in part, by central bank printing presses, which churned out marks to pay war reparations. At German insistence, the ECB had been modelled after the Bundesbank, which was given complete independence from meddling politicians when it was established in the 1950s, to avoid a repeat of the 1920s . The German government also demanded that the EU’s 1992 Maastricht treaty, which laid the foundations for the euro’s creation, bar the ECB from buying sovereign bonds.

Both Mr Geithner and Mr Sarkozy had spent months trying to solve two seemingly mutually exclusive problems: increasing the firewall enough to convince bond traders there was sufficient eurozone money to prevent a Greek default from being repeated elsewhere, while not falling foul of German objections.

On the eve of Cannes, US and French delegations agreed a new plan to increase crisis-fighting reserves they hoped would be acceptable in Berlin. It involved a form of cash known by few beyond the cognoscenti of international public finance: special drawing rights, or SDRs.

Technically, SDRs are not money. They are an asset created by international agreement in 1969 and held by the IMF for its member countries, a substitute for gold or US dollars in global financial accounting. Sometimes referred to as “paper gold”, they cannot be held by anyone other than the IMF and must be converted into another currency before they can be spent. And yet they have real value, with one SDR currently trading close to the value of one British pound.

In 2009, in the wake of the Lehman crisis, G20 leaders increased the amount of SDRs in existence by $250bn, essentially creating new IMF firefighting reserves out of thin air. At Cannes, the US and France wanted to do it again but instead of giving them to the IMF, the eurozone would devote ¢140bn in SDRs to its depleted bailout fund.

Even those involved in drawing up the plan admit it was hastily thrown together. Back in that Obama-chaired meeting, the group found themselves enmeshed in German politics. “Our preference in the US is that the ECB should act a bit like the Federal Reserve did but that doesn’t seem to be a viable option,” Mr Obama said at the start, in a clear reference to German opposition.

But Ms Merkel now had another problem. Officials said she was open to Mr Obama’s idea. But SDRs are not controlled by national governments; they are controlled by central banks. And Jens Weidmann, the head of the Bundesbank, was opposed.

The Bundesbank, which is responsible for representing Germany at the IMF, had picked up word of the scheme through sources at the fund in Washington. Mr Weidmann had quickly drafted a letter to the German government outlining his objections. Mr Weidmann’s reasoning was both practical and ideological. Practically, the German central banker felt the plan smacked of desperation. Using foreign reserves to fill the bailout fund would send markets the wrong message: only through financial jerry-rigging could funding be found.

But more importantly to Mr Weidmann was the principle: SDRs are, like a country’s gold holdings, part of a government’s foreign reserves, which are the exclusive responsibility of the independent central bank to manage – not for politicians to commit willy-nilly to rescue programmes. The Bundesbank had no problem with the 2009 decision to increase SDRs for the IMF, since that is what SDRs were for. But committing them to the eurozone’s bailout fund set a dangerous precedent.

Mr Weidmann’s letter urged Ms Merkel to bury the proposal. But according to German officials, their delegation did not get the letter before leaving for Cannes. Instead, they only learnt of Mr Weidmann’s objection over the phone after they arrived in France, and then in a series of calls attempted to convince him to change his mind. It had become clear to Ms Merkel’s camp that they were about to be surrounded that morning during a bilateral meeting between the chancellor and Mr Obama in the cellar of the Palais. “The French, the Italians all would be willing to do this,” said a member of the German delegation.

But Mr Weidmann could not be moved.

So when Mr Sarkozy quickly endorsed Mr Obama’s idea at the evening session, and turned to Ms Merkel for her support, she delivered the bad news: the Bundesbank had rejected it and she could not agree without the Bundesbank. She supported the plan politically, and if Italy agreed to the ¢80bn IMF programme she may be able to go to the Bundestag to increase the size of the rescue fund itself. But on SDRs, the answer was no.

‘The storm was over’

To some in the room, the discussion seemed otherworldly. Although the eurozone was on the brink of imploding because of Greece and Italy, it was Ms Merkel – whose economy was the stalwart anchor of the continent – who had been cornered. Mr Obama had agreed with the Italians that the IMF programme was a bad idea. “I think Silvio is right,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Sarkozy attempted to manage the three-way impasse. The US wanted Germany to contribute its SDRs but Germany was only willing to give a partial commitment if Italy gave in on the IMF programme. Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister, held firm: Rome would accept IMF monitoring but no programme. Would the Italian monitoring plan, plus a commitment by Germany to contribute bilateral loans, be enough, Mr Sarkozy asked.

“No. Germany has one-fourth of all [eurozone] SDR allocations,” Mr Obama objected. “If you have all the EU countries together but not Germany?.?.?.?it starts losing credibility.”

Then came Ms Merkel’s tearful breakdown. “That is not fair. I cannot decide in lieu of the Bundesbank. I cannot do that.”

The emotional outburst appeared to temper the American and French demands for an agreement there and then. “He saw that he went too far,” one European in the room said of Mr Obama.

The US president asked whether Ms Merkel could work it out with the Bundesbank by Monday. Mr Sarkozy suggested finance ministers meet to agree the details before the summit ended the next day. Perhaps something vague could be mentioned in the summit’s communiqué, Mr Obama suggested. No, said Mr Sarkozy, but we could meet again in the morning.

It was as if the two men had not heard her. She made the point again: “I’m not going to take such a big risk without getting anything from Italy. I’m not going to commit suicide.”

And with that, the meeting ended. Leaving the late-night session, Mr Obama put his arm around Ms Merkel as if to comfort her – a scene captured by the White House’s official photographer. The image adorned the walls of the West Wing for months.

The leaders met again the next morning but the momentum was gone. “The storm was over,” said one person at both meetings. The SDR plan would never again see the light of day. Italy would get a monitoring programme but no funding. And to compound the failure, Mr Berlusconi at his closing news conference publicly acknowledged what everyone had assiduously attempted to keep secret: that the IMF had offered him a rescue programme. Italy would suffer the stigma of needing a rescue but without receiving any assistance.

The Cannes failure provided new oxygen to the eurozone fire. When markets reopened, Italian borrowing costs soared. Within the week they would nearly touch 7.5 per cent. Greece’s would go above 33 per cent, a level almost without precedent for a developed country. Now, with no new firewall in place, it was unclear what would save the euro.

“一种示弱”

几个月来,奥巴马政府一直带着受挫感和越来越大的担忧关注着欧元区危机。美国财长蒂姆?盖特纳(Tim Geithner)和他在华盛顿的团队曾试图分享美方从本国银行业危机中汲取的经验教训,即只有海量的公共资金才能安抚恐慌的投资者。尽管盖特纳高调地展开了多次欧洲之行,他的副手也较为低调地跑了几趟,但美国方面觉得欧元区领导人的行动仍然不到位。

欧洲有人怀疑白宫在玩政治。“美国人只有一个目标,而这个目标是完全可以理解的,”直接与盖特纳打交道的一个欧洲人表示,“欧元区必须得到拯救,否则欧洲将陷入一场萧条,而这将影响到美国经济和我的连任。”美方予以了否认,而欧洲对美方的表态并不完全相信。

这种尴尬突出地体现在了华盛顿与默克尔的关系上;默克尔偶尔会发现美国的干预不适当和不受欢迎。柏林方面曾推动总部位于华盛顿的IMF参与应对危机。但有时,当奥巴马介入事态时,默克尔又会告诉同僚,欧洲的决策应由欧洲人做出。

虽然这两位领导人看上去都是理性和不易动感情的,但接近默克尔的人士透露,两人的风格其实从根本上是不同的。奥巴马有时会表现得像是一名正在授课的教授,默克尔则反感这种风格。默克尔不喜欢这种学术性思索,而更倾向于着眼短期和战术性的决策。

可话说回来,布鲁塞尔、法兰克福和巴黎都有很多人欢迎美国介入,尤其是想将其当作制衡柏林的一个手段。美国官员称,他们经常被意见对立的各国政府拖入危机纠纷,还被敦促向德国施压、要其采取更加果断的行动。他们说,在其他一些场合,德国政府也会呼吁华盛顿方面推动挣扎中的欧元区国家落实已承诺的改革。

无论欧洲领导人是否欢迎美国介入,他们都觉得奥巴马对欧元区事务有很好的把握——在他们看来,对一位要处理大量事务的领导人而言,这是很了不起的。

然而,在戛纳的那个夜晚,当欧元区领导人按照萨科齐的安排在晚上9时30分再次开会时,有几个人意外地发现奥巴马在主持会议。“这很奇怪,”德国代表团的一名成员称,“这也是一个信号,表明欧洲搞不定这件事;这是一种示弱。”

房间里的很多人本来预计,那晚的会议将聚焦于说服贝卢斯科尼接受IMF的援助。意大利方面在那天早上拒绝了那个方案,辩称这会让人觉得他们无力凭借自己的力量处置危机,同时又拿不出充足的资源来应对后果。他们转而提出接受IMF的监督,但不要资金。

但奥巴马在会议的开场白中提到了另一个问题。他有一项扩大欧元区防火墙规模的新计划——这个设想把德国推到了舞台中央。

萨科齐决定把会议主席的位子让给奥巴马,此举无论是出于自觉还是不自觉,都不应让人感到意外。自危机爆发以来,巴黎和华盛顿的对策几乎相同:竖起一堵防火墙,其规模要足够大,以使债券交易员不会质疑欧元区有没有足够的资金或政治意愿来拯救负债累累的南部成员国。

对盖特纳和他的法国同行来说,这堵防火墙最显而易见的资金来源是欧洲央行,该机构依法具有印钞的权力。美国已经展现了央行抗击危机的战斗力:美联储(Fed)在雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)倒闭后大举买入美国国债。但是,柏林方面一贯反对利用央行来向政府提供资金。

这是一个原则问题

德国的反对立场源于该国的黑暗历史:在两次世界大战之间的岁月里将魏玛共和国(Weimar Republic)推入绝境的恶性通胀,在一定程度上就是央行的印钞机造成的;当时的德国央行为支付战争赔款大量发行货币。在德国的坚持下,欧洲央行以德国联邦银行(Bundesbank,即现在的德国央行——译者注)为模板建立,后者在上世纪50年代成立时被赋予了完全独立的地位,使其免遭政客的插手,以免重蹈上世纪20年代的覆辙。德国政府还要求《马斯特里赫特条约》(Maastricht treaty)禁止欧洲央行购买主权债券。欧盟在1992年签署了该条约,为创建欧元奠定了基础。

盖特纳和萨科齐花了好几个月时间来试图解决两个看似互斥的问题:扩大防火墙规模、使其足以让债券交易员相信欧元区有足够财力防止希腊违约在其他地方重演,同时避免德国的反对。

在戛纳峰会前夕,美国和法国代表团商定了一个增加危机应对储备的新计划,他们希望该计划能得到德国的接受。它涉及一种在国际公共财政圈子外鲜为人知的现金形式:特别提款权(SDR)。

严格说来,特别提款权不是金钱。它们是根据国际协定于1969年创建的一类资产,由IMF为其成员国持有,用于在全球金融会计中替代黄金或美元。特别提款权有时也被称为“纸黄金”,除IMF外,它们不能被任何人持有,而且在支出之前必须兑换成另一种货币。但它们具有真正的价值,目前1特别提款权在价值上接近于1英镑。

2009年,在雷曼危机爆发后,G20领导人将特别提款权的数额增加了2500亿美元,实质上就是凭空创造出了新的IMF“灭火”储备。在戛纳,美国和法国希望如法炮制,只不过不是把它们交给IMF,而是由欧元区向其濒临耗尽的纾困基金注入1400亿欧元特别提款权。

就连那些参与制定计划的人士也承认,这是一份仓促拼凑出来的计划。回过头来再说说奥巴马主持的那次会议:与会人士发现,自己被卷入了德国政治。“我们在美国的首选方案是,让欧洲央行在某些方面像美联储那样采取行动,但这似乎不是一个可行的选择,”奥巴马在开场白中表示,此言显然是在指德国的反对立场。

但默克尔现在有另一个麻烦。官员们说,她对奥巴马的设想持开放态度。但特别提款权是由央行(而非国家层面的政府)控制的,而德国央行行长延斯?魏德曼(Jens Weidmann)反对这个计划。

负责在IMF代表德国的德国央行,此前已通过其在华盛顿IMF总部的消息渠道,听到了该计划的风声。魏德曼很快起草了一封致德国政府的信,概述了自己的反对意见。魏德曼的理由既是实际的,也是基于意识形态的。从实际角度看,这位德国央行行长觉得该计划散发出绝望的气息。利用外汇储备向纾困基金注资,将向市场传递出错误信息,即官方只能使出下三滥的金融招数来找到资金。

但对魏德曼来说,更重要的是原则:特别提款权就像国家所持的黄金一样,是政府外汇储备的一部分,其管理权只属于独立的央行,政治人士无权随随便便地将之投入纾困计划。德国央行在2009年对增加IMF的特别提款权的决定并无异议,因为那是特别提款权的正当用途。但是,将特别提款权投入欧元区纾困基金将确立一个危险的先例。

魏德曼在信中敦促默克尔一口回绝这个提议。但据德国官员透露,该国代表团在动身前往戛纳前并没有接到这封信。相反,他们是在抵达法国后才通过电话获悉魏德曼的反对态度的,他们后来打了一连串电话,试图说服魏德曼改变念头。对默克尔的阵营来说,局面已变得很明朗:那天早上德国总理和奥巴马在影节宫地下室举行双边会晤时,他们将受到包围。“法国人、意大利人都愿意这么做,”德国代表团的一名成员表示。

但魏德曼不为所动。

因此,当萨科齐在晚间会议上迅速表示支持奥巴马的想法、随即转向默克尔寻求她的支持时,默克尔公布了坏消息:德国央行已经拒绝了这项计划,而她不能撇开德国央行表示同意。她在政治上支持这项计划,而且,如果意大利同意800亿欧元的IMF纾困计划,她也许能去德国联邦议院(Bundestag)推动扩大纾困基金本身的规模。但在特别提款权问题上,答案是否定的。

“风暴已经过去”

在房间里的一些人看来,这些讨论似乎匪夷所思。虽然欧元区被希腊和意大利搞得走到了内爆的边缘,而德国经济是整个欧洲大陆的坚实堡垒,但此时此刻却是默克尔被逼到墙角。奥巴马同意意大利方面的观点,认为IMF纾困计划是一个糟糕的主意。“我认为西尔维奥是对的,”奥巴马说道。

萨科齐试图斡旋这个“三方僵局”。美国希望德国贡献其特别提款权,但德国只愿作出部分承诺,前提是意大利在IMF的计划上让步。意大利财长朱利奥?特雷蒙蒂(Giulio Tremonti)坚守立场:罗马方面将接受IMF的监督,但不要纾困计划。萨科齐问道,意大利的监督计划加上德国贡献双边贷款的承诺,会不会就足够了?

“不行。德国拥有(欧元区)全部特别提款权分配额的四分之一,”奥巴马反对道,“如果你把所有欧盟国家联合起来,但没有德国……那将开始失去可信度。”

接着就出现了默克尔落泪的一幕。“这不公平。我不能代替德国央行作决定。我不能这样做。”

这一情绪化的发泄似乎打消了美国和法国想在当场促成协议的念头。“他意识到自己做得过头了,”在场的一个欧洲人在谈到奥巴马时表示。

这位美国总统问默克尔,能不能在周一之前与德国央行谈妥?萨科齐提议各国财长开会,在次日峰会结束前商定细节。奥巴马提出,也许可以在峰会的公报中含糊提到相关安排。萨科齐表示,那不行,但我们可以在早上再次开会。

两位男士表现得好像没听到默克尔的话。默克尔再度表明了态度:“没有意大利的配合,我不打算承担这么大的风险。我不会做形同自杀的事。”

会议到此结束。时间已到深夜,走出会场时,奥巴马伸出手臂挽住默克尔(见上图),仿佛是要安慰她——白宫的官方摄影师捕捉到了这个镜头。这张照片在白宫西厢办公室的墙上挂了好几个月。

这些领导人在次日早上再次开会,但原先的势头已不复存在。“风暴已经过去,”两场会议都参加了的一名人士表示。特别提款权计划最终不了了之。意大利将得到一个监督计划,但没有资金。更失败的是,贝卢斯科尼在峰会闭幕后的新闻发布会上公开承认了其他所有人在努力保守的秘密:IMF向他提议了一个纾困计划。这意味着意大利将被刻上“需要纾困”的耻辱标记,同时却得不到任何实际援助。

戛纳峰会的失败对欧元区危机起到了火上浇油的作用。市场开盘时,意大利举债成本飙升。不到一周后,它们将逼近7.5%。希腊的举债成本将升至33%以上,对一个发达国家来说,这几乎是史无前例的水平。此时,在新“防火墙”无法落实的情况下,人们不清楚还有什么能够拯救欧元。

译者/和风

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