The eurozone crisis: what Cameron & Osborne must do next

David Cowan 4.29pm

Eurozone leaders have announced a new 109 billion bailout package for Greece, which includes restructuring Greece’s national debt and inflicts further cuts to public spending. Money markets have rallied but the fear is that this cannot last. Meanwhile, Westminster remains mesmerised by the hacking scandal.

Ireland and Portugal have already been bailed out. Greece has now been bailed out twice. Italy is teetering on the edge of collapse and Spain looks risky - bond markets remain turbulent. A new European rescue fund is reported to have $464 billion ready to defend these two countries should markets scramble. If any of these eurozone countries fall to an uncontrolled default then financial contagion could spread right across the continent, cause the eurozone’s collapse and unleash a new global recession.

I think that a default in one of these countries is now inevitable. Bailouts can only prolong the wait. This leaves only one viable option for the PIGS: a controlled default outside the eurozone. New currencies (or re-introduction of old ones) would allow exchange rates to fall to more realistic levels and permit an economic recovery based on increased exports. Once recovery was secured and necessary reforms were implemented in order to comply with the Stability and Growth Pact’s original 3 per cent cap on deficits, such nations could return. However, as President Sarkozy has said that the word ‘default’ (or defaut) is not in his vocabulary, this option appears to be off the table.

The Government seems to have a new EU policy, outlined by David Rennie in this week’s Economist:

Thanks to a great scoop by George Parker of the FT, it is clear the government now believes the following: (a) a big leap towards fiscal union is the only way of saving the single currency, (b) Britain has a strong interest in the survival of the single currency, (c) Britain must play no part in bailing out the single currency and will stand aloof from fiscal integration, thus (d) our national interest now lies in allowing Europe to divide into markedly different zones of integration, with us on the outside.

Whereas eurosceptics such as Bill Cash and Daniel Hannan are clamouring for a radical renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU, such changes are unlikely as long as the Conservatives govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. However, David Cameron does risk a Conservative backbench rebellion if he does not take some advantage of the situation, particularly when one considers that the 2010 intake of Tory MPs is the most rebellious since the Second World War.

The European Commission’s budget proposals - an unrealistic 100 billion euros increase - could offer the best opportunity for Mr Cameron. At a time of budget cuts across Europe, the Government must demand a 10 per cent cut to the EU budget over the next budgetary cycle (2014-20). In return, there should be negotiations about revenue raising powers for the EU. A VAT increase or new Tobin Tax should be ruled out in favour of options such as replacing the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and carbon price floor with an EU-wide Carbon Tax (see my previous post).

William Hague should also push for a Single Market Act. This could be the greatest supply side reform in EU history by significantly reducing regulations, regulatory bodies, quangos and unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles (see also Nik’s article in March about Tory Reform Group MPs demanding EU deregulation). We must help to liberalise the European economy to enable it to become more productive, dynamic and innovative.

David Cameron envisages an EU that allows the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour, and where there is multilateral co-operation over global trade, the promotion of human rights, international aid and tackling climate change. As the 2010 Conservative manifesto makes clear, this does not include oversight of social policy or the rule of law.

The eurozone crisis is both a huge threat to the UK economy and the greatest opportunity for genuine, lasting reform in Europe. Let’s hope that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor face down this threat and grasp the opportunity in front of them.

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