Hollande & Merkel

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Daily Telegraph’s Philip Aldrick takes a look at the options facing Greece. Needless to say, none of them are pretty. One thing that I cannot see working smoothly is a second Greek election that comes to be read (one way or another) as a referendum on the euro. If that happens, and it might if either the Greeks or those financing them reach the end of their tethers, then it’s easy to think that Greece’s long slow-motion bank run (which had recently come to a halt) would resume with a vengeance, and were that to occur, panic could feed on itself with who knows what consequences.

Possibly more interesting, however, is what Aldrick has to say about Hollande & Merkel, a curious duo to be sure, but one, I reckon, that is unlikely to indulge in a bust-up while Greece teeters on its latest brink. Aldrick imagines a situation where Greece is on the way out:

By then, France’s elections would have been largely forgotten. Francois Hollande’s demand that growth be made part of Germany’s “fiscal compact” would probably have been resolved by a supplementary, loosely worded pact drawn up by Brussels bureaucrats. There might also have been a virtually unnoticeable slowing in fiscal austerity measures for the region. After all, Hollande’s growth plans for France are merely to balance the budget one year later than President Sarkozy.

The Franco-German alliance would be as strong as ever at the centre of the single currency. But there would be chaos in the periphery. It is no coincidence that German and French bond yields fell this morning, as the others rose.

“Strong as ever” is an overstatement, but there’s a lot to the picture he is painting.

Meanwhile Open Europe has a typically useful summary of German press reaction to Sunday’s vote.  There’s plenty of predictably (and understandably) harsh talk such as this from the economics editor of the (distinguished) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

“How do you deal with a country that firstly swindled access to the euro, then plunged the EU into an existential crisis, and then cast two-thirds of votes for radical parties that deny austerity?”

But there’s also this from the EU correspondent of Handelsblatt (a business newspaper)

“If the second largest EU state [France] were to veer from the path of savings and reform, then the monetary union would come into its heaviest existential crisis yet. However, it does not appear that Hollande would so lightly put the euro, the most important legacy of his political mentor François Mitterrand, at risk.”

That’s true (at least for now), I think, and it reinforces what Aldrick is saying. At the same time we should remember (to adapt an old Trotsky line) that even if Hollande has no plans for risk, risk may have plans for him.