【英语财经】欧元得救之后 The eurozone won the war – now it must win the peace

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2014-5-26 06:41

小艾摘要: Martin Feldstein, the renowned Harvard economist, once predicted that the euro could lead to renewed conflict in Europe, raising the risk of US intervention to prevent “more serious confrontations”. ...
The eurozone won the war – now it must win the peace
Martin Feldstein, the renowned Harvard economist, once predicted that the euro could lead to renewed conflict in Europe, raising the risk of US intervention to prevent “more serious confrontations”. His article in Foreign Affairs, published a year before the launch of the single currency in 1999, triggered a furore in Europe where officials indignantly rejected the idea of a third world war on the continent.

More than 15 years on, Professor Feldstein’s forecast has proved to be more accurate than many of his critics expected. The euro may not have unleashed hostilities in the old war theatres east and west of the Rhine, but the sovereign debt crisis following the financial crisis created extraordinary confrontation and recrimination among Europe’s leaders – as described in this week’s in-depth series in the Financial Times.

The series featured shouting French presidents, manoeuvres to unseat the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, and even a tearful Angela Merkel, German chancellor and the leading actor in Europe’s political psychodrama. And yet, in the end, these conflicts – perhaps the most intense since the Treaty of Rome was signed six decades ago – were settled not on the battlefield but in the conference room.

The euro was saved – but is it secure? Nearly two years after Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, announced he would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, the acute phase of the crisis appears over. Italian and Spanish borrowing costs are at the lowest levels since the euro’s launch. Ireland and Portugal have left bailout programmes without the safety blanket of an EU credit line. Even Greece is insisting it will survive without a third rescue when its EU programme ends later this year.

Yet many of the underlying weaknesses remain unresolved. First, the project to create a fiscal union, which many economists believe is the sine qua non for a working monetary union, remains unfinished. There is no federal eurozone budget to provide buffers for countries going through temporary economic setbacks, no commonly backed eurozone bonds to level out borrowing costs, no large-scale harmonisation of national economic policies. And countries such as Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal remain heavily indebted.

With the return of market calm, many of those most closely involved in the years of crisis-fighting lament that reform fatigue is not limited to bailout countries such as Greece and Portugal. At March’s EU summit in Brussels, the last before next week’s European Parliament elections, an effort by Ms Merkel to take the next step towards fiscal union – binding contracts that would harmonise fiscal reform programmes – was set aside after most other leaders complained they had already done enough.

More worrying, many in Brussels and Frankfurt fret that EU leaders are not only unwilling to continue down the road of eurozone repair but have instead gone into full reverse: governments in Ireland, Portugal and Greece are making policy decisions based on the assumption that the current market euphoria will last. As Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, said this week: “Those who say the European economy is recovering are smoking something.”

The official response is that the crisis has created a new European “architecture”, which has replaced the flawed halfway house of the Maastricht treaty that paved the way for the euro. There are new firefighting mechanisms and new rules to curb fiscal indiscipline. Still, the question on the eve of European Parliament elections is whether the monetary union is now politically sustainable.

The present arrangements look precarious. It is no longer just Greece and Ireland and Portugal that are having their budgets shaped by international monitors. Just ask Fran?ois Hollande or Matteo Renzi. Both the French president and Italian prime minister are struggling to generate economic growth, only to risk running foul of tough German-inspired budget rules adopted in the early months of the crisis.

To the federalists in Brussels, the solution is “more Europe”. And in many ways, their arguments are unassailable. If voters do not like the way Brussels is implementing budget rules, they should be able to elect new European commissioners who will do things differently. An elected, polyglot European government running the EU from Brussels would have the democratic credibility and accountability to create a fully fledged economic and monetary union.

However, at a time when anti-EU sentiment is at an all-time high in nearly every eurozone country – and anti-Brussels parties are forecast to finish first or second in next week’s vote in three of the union’s six founding members (France, Italy and the Netherlands) – nobody believes “more Europe” is a realistic solution.

So what are we left with? Has the eurozone crisis moved into a chronic phase where tough budget rules demanding debt reduction, regardless of the economic circumstances, doom some southern EU countries to austerity and anaemic growth for years? And, if so, can mainstream parties continue to hold power indefinitely, even as voters become increasingly disillusioned that their elected governments no longer fully control that most basic sovereign function, taxing and spending?

The present generation of European leaders deserves credit for holding its nerve and keeping the eurozone together with a mixture of political courage and deft improvisation. How the next crop copes with the new Europe – one in which the euro has been saved but economic stagnation and political insurgency are the order of the day – could be as bracing a challenge as the last one.

哈佛大学(Harvard University)著名经济学家马丁?费尔德斯坦(Martin Feldstein)曾预测,欧元可能在欧洲引发新的冲突,引发美国出手干预以阻止“更严重对抗”的风险。这篇文章发表在1999年的《外交事务》(Foreign Affairs)上,正值欧元推出一年之前。此文在欧洲引起一片哗然,官员们愤怒地驳斥欧洲将爆发第三次世界大战的想法。

超过15年过去了。事实证明,费尔德斯坦教授的预测比不少批评者所预期的更加准确。欧元或许没有在莱茵河东西两岸的旧战场引爆战火,但尾随金融危机而至的主权债务危机,在欧洲领导人之间引起了严重对峙和相互指责——正如最近英国《金融时报》的深度系列报道所记叙的。

该系列报道描绘了大发雷霆的法国总统,试图把希腊和意大利总理赶下台的幕后动作,甚至还有德国总理、欧洲政治/心理剧“主角”安格拉?默克尔(Angela Merkel)落泪的一幕。但最后,或许是60年前《罗马条约》(Treaty of Rome)签署以来最为激烈的冲突并未导致兵戎相见,而是在会议室得到解决。

欧元得救了——但它安全吗?在欧洲央行(ECB)行长马里奥?德拉吉(Mario Draghi)宣布“不惜代价”拯救欧元近两年后,危机的急性期似乎已经过去。意大利和西班牙的借款成本处于欧元诞生以来的最低水平。爱尔兰和葡萄牙在不依靠欧盟(EU)信贷额度安全保障的情况下退出纾困计划。就连希腊也坚称,当欧盟纾困计划今年晚些时候结束时,它不需要第三轮救助就能生存。

但许多根本层面的弱点仍未得到解决。首先,建立财政联盟的计划(许多经济学家认为这是货币联盟有效运转的必要条件)仍未完成。没有欧元区联邦预算为经济遭遇暂时困难的国家提供缓冲,没有共同支持的欧元区债券拉平借款成本,也没有各国经济政策的大规模协调。同时,希腊、爱尔兰、意大利和葡萄牙等国仍然负债累累。

随着市场回归平静,许多当年身处对抗危机第一线的人哀叹道,“改革疲劳症”不仅限于希腊和葡萄牙等被纾困国家。在3月份的布鲁塞尔欧盟峰会上(那是近日欧洲议会选举之前的最后一次峰会),默克尔向着财政联盟的方向迈出下一步(订立约束性合约以协调财政改革计划)的努力被搁置,因为其他大部分领导人抱怨道,他们做得已经够多了。

更令人担忧的是,欧盟和欧洲央行的不少官员发愁,欧盟各国领导人不仅不愿意在修复欧元区的路上走下去,还在开倒车:爱尔兰、葡萄牙和希腊政府的政策决策,都以目前市场乐观情绪将持续下去的假设为依据。难怪花旗集团(Citigroup)首席经济学家威廉姆?比特(Willem Buiter)最近所说:“那些说欧洲经济正在复苏的人肯定在嗑药。”

官方的回应是,危机创造出欧洲的新“架构”,它代替了为启用欧元铺平道路、但存在缺陷的不到位的《马斯特里赫特条约》(Maastricht treaty)。新的救火机制和规则能够遏止不讲财政纪律的行为。话虽如此,在欧洲议会选举前夕,问题在于货币联盟是否在政治上可持续。

目前的安排看上去有点悬。预算受到国际监督者过问的国家不只有希腊、爱尔兰和葡萄牙。问问弗朗索瓦?奥朗德(Fran?ois Hollande)或马特奥?伦齐(Matteo Renzi)就知道了。法国总统和意大利总理都竭力推动经济增长,却都有可能触犯危机最初几个月期间在德国倡导下出台的严厉预算规则。

在布鲁塞尔的联邦主义者们看来,解决方案是加深欧洲一体化。从许多方面说,他们的论点是无懈可击的。如果选民们不喜欢欧盟实施预算规则的方式,他们应当可以选出做事风格不同的欧盟专员。让一个民选、多语言的欧洲政府在布鲁塞尔治理欧盟,将为创建全面的经济和货币联盟带来民主可信度和问责机制。

但是,反欧盟情绪在几乎所有欧元区国家达到历史最高点。根据预测,在欧洲议会选举中,反欧盟政党将在欧盟创始六国中的三国(法国、意大利、荷兰)获得最多或第二多的选票。在这种情况下,无人相信加深欧洲一体化是切实可行的解决方案。

那么,我们还剩下什么选择?欧元区危机是否已进入慢性期(无论经济状况如何都要求削减债务的严厉预算规则,注定会将欧盟南部国家拖入多年的紧缩和虚弱增长)?倘若如此,在选民越发失望地认识到,他们选举产生的政府不再能完全掌控税收和支出这些最基本的主权国家职能的情况下,主流政党能否继续坐稳江山?

这一代欧洲领导人在危机时刻保持冷静,凭借政治勇气和随机应变维护了欧元区的完整,为此他们理应获得赞赏。下一代领导人如何应对新欧洲,一个欧元得救、但经济停滞和政治反叛大行其道的欧洲?这也许是同样扣人心弦的挑战。

译者/何黎

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