Europe Struggles to Craft Debt Solution, Amid Prodding From U.S.

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 16.09.2011

bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now to fill in the picture is Zanny Minton Beddoes,
economics editor for The Economist magazine. Welcome back. ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, The Economist:
Nice to be here. JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what is it that Secretary Geithner is asking them
to do? What would constitute strong measures at this point? ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Well,
I think he's trying to get them to recognize the gravity of what they're doing, to stop
kicking the can down the road, and to actually come up with a comprehensive plan to solve
the problem, which is what they haven't done. They have been muddling through and muddling
through and muddling through. And I think he recognizes -- he was there at the invitation
of the Poles. And the Poles have the current presidency of the European Union. And I think
the Poles are probably equally worried about this. They are not members of the eurozone.
But the members of the eurozone have just been failing to get to grips with the kind
of gravity of their problem. And so he, I'm sure, was there trying to impress upon them
behind the scenes this could really be a catastrophe, and you just need to get your acts together
and solve it. JEFFREY BROWN: Now, he did get a good amount of pushback, including a bit
of, "How dare you come and tell us about debt and deficit?" and things like that. ZANNY
MINTON BEDDOES: I thought that was -- the Austrian finance minister saying publicly
that she thought it was peculiar that a man from a country which had a higher debt-to-GDP
ratio than the European Union as a whole came to lecture to them, frankly, I thought that
was somewhat rude and completely unnecessary. I mean, the truth is that Europe has a very
big problem. And it is a big problem for the world if the Europeans fail to solve it. JEFFREY
BROWN: But now let's go into that. I mean, what -- explain the divisions that still exist
politically within Europe as to why they can't move forward. ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Well,
I think there are two things go on. The first is that there is a classic governance problem,
that even if they agreed on what to do, or even if they knew what to do, there are 17
countries that have to sign off on this. And so part of the problem is that individual,
often quite small countries in the eurozone want different things. So, for example, the
Fins want collateral for any money that they're going to lend to Greece, which is causing
a lot of problems. JEFFREY BROWN: Because everybody else wants it, too, if they get
it, right? ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Absolutely. Absolutely. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. ZANNY MINTON
BEDDOES: But the bigger problem, I think, is that there is no agreement within the eurozone
on really what the problem is. Now, that sounds absurd. JEFFREY BROWN: You mean going back
to root. What is the problem? They still don't know what that is. ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Absolutely.
What is the problem? Well, I think that there is a sense that the prevailing narrative in
Europe is that this is a problem of profligacy, that governments have been spending too much,
particularly governments in the south of Europe, particularly the Greeks, but also the Italians
and the Spanish they would throw in. The Mediterranean countries have spent too much, had too much
of a party and they need a lot of austerity. They need to tighten their budgets. They need
to cut back, and that is the solution. JEFFREY BROWN: That is one narrative. ZANNY MINTON
BEDDOES: And that is one narrative. There is another narrative which isn't very popular
in Europe, but which is actually what is going on right now, which is that there is a profound
loss of confidence in financial markets about the safety of European assets, particularly
countries like Italy. And the reason there's that profound loss of confidence is because
the rules of the game have suddenly changed. For the past 10 years, there was an assumption,
maybe a wrong one, but there was an assumption which the whole financial structure was based
on that this was risk-free government debt, that countries wouldn't be allowed to default.
And over the past two years, there has been a kind of vacillation of, will countries be
able to default, will they be allowed, will they not be allowed? And the weird thing is
that the Europeans have said of Greece, which is the one country that is manifestly insolvent,
they said this country will not default. And yet they then as part of their muddling through
said, well, we're going to create a structure that will after 2013 allow countries to default.
JEFFREY BROWN: And that lack of confidence in nations would then lead to the problems
for the European banks. ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Absolutely. Imagine -- if you were an investor
now investing in Italian government bonds, and you're not sure whether -- how this thing
going to be resolved, why on earth would you invest in them? So you would have in effect
a kind of sudden stop, a sort of panic of people not wanting to get in, and then the
European banks hold enormous amounts of European sovereign bonds. So the banks look in very,
very bad shape. And the banks are therefore unable to raise short-term funds from anywhere,
and they rely very heavily on U.S. money market funds. JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and to address
that, as we said, yesterday the central banks, including the Fed, stepped in to open a window,
I guess, to allow banks to -- explain that briefly, and are there risks in that for the
U.S.? ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: No, I think the risks for the U.S. are minimal. And I think
that what this shows is that you can -- the central banks are much better at coordinating
and getting things done. And you're exactly right. What these central banks have tried
to do is to create a mechanism for these banks that need dollar liquidity to get it. And
I think that is a very important part of the solution. But it is not going to be enough
alone, because the reason people are worried about lending to the banks is that they are
worried about the solvency of the banks. And the reason they're worried about that is,
they're worried about a default on government bonds. And so until you deal with the crisis
of the sovereign bonds, if you will, you are just not going to solve this. You have to
do several things. You have to recapitalize the banks, and you have to deal with this
loss of confidence in the sovereign bonds. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Zanny Minton Beddoes
of The Economist, thanks so much. ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES: Great to be here. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
place urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags country-region JEFFREY BROWN: And joining
me now to fill in the picture is Zanny Minton Beddoes, economics editor for "The Economist"
magazine Normal Microsoft Office Word JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now to fill in the picture
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