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EU Continues to be One Big Dysfunctional Economic Family

New treaty promises a lot for the future and fixes exactly none of the problems which are threatening the world economy.

Euro design

Last time we checked in on the Euro family, everyone was terrified that cousin Silvio (and those other deadbeats: Constantine, Seamus and Fatima) wouldn’t be able to make the payments on his family business. If Silvio did that then everyone else in Europe and America, who had either loaned money to Silvio or to the people who made the loans, was going to bust. In order to fix this problem the Euros held a family meeting and put together an agreement that, if it works, would make it impossible for anyone to get into debt trouble like Silvio did ever again.

Trouble is that it doesn’t do anything about fixing Silvio’s current problem and, if that problem doesn’t get fixed, all the other issues are besides the point.

Which is why Silvio (Italy) and Juanita (Spain) have to pay more interest when they borrow money now that the agreement is in place than they did before it.

Here’s what the new EU treaty does:

  • Requires nations to keep deficits below 0.5 percent of GDP.
  • Creates penalties for failure to do so and possibly a mechanism to enforce them
  • Requires nations to tell each other how much debt they are taking on via bond sales – before the bond sale
  • Creates a permanent EU bailout fund and which can move faster than the current one
  • Gives the IMF up to $267 billion to lend to ailing European governments

Here’s what it doesn’t do:

  • Raise the $668 billion cap on the euro zone’s bailout lending capacity
  • Let the European Central Bank buy large amounts of bonds from struggling nations
  • Actually say who will enforce the treaty and what power they will have to compel errant governments to comply

On the plus side, it also doesn’t give any more power to the European Commission, the EU’s alleged governing body best known for setting rules governing the appearance of bananas sold in 17 nations.

The U.K. opted out of the treaty, not because it doesn’t really do anything, but because he couldn’t get guarantees for the British financial sector. Even if you make a good move for stupid reasons, it’s still a good move. As Terry Smith of the brokers Tullett Prebon put it, “UK as isolated as someone left on the dock in Southampton as the Titanic sailed away.”

The most optimistic take on the deal is that it gave the Germans what they wanted for the future, which will make it possible for sell German voters on the idea of funding bailouts now.

Thus ends what is, by my count, the 20th “critical EU summit” since the Greeks hit the fan. Each prior summit resulted in no more than scheduling the next one. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Which is the French version of The Who’s “Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.”



Last updated: Dec 9, 2011


Constantine von Hoffman is a writer and sometime standup comedian. His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald,, and Boston Magazine.

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