ACCORDING to legend, Willie Sutton robbed banks “because that is where the money is”. If only European politicians were as rational. The euro zone is now threatened by a sovereign credit crunch nasty enough to plunge entire economies into misery. Warding it off will involve keeping (or, for Greece, regaining) the confidence of financial markets, so that horribly indebted countries can continue to service their debts without being crippled by the cost. For all the brave talk of solidarity among euro countries, taxpayers on their own cannot and will not pay to keep their neighbours afloat. In short, Europe needs the markets to get it out of this hole, because they are where the money is.
That means it is time for European leaders to call a truce in a populist campaign to present the markets as illegitimate decision-makers, driven only by the cynicism and greed of “speculators”. Such populism has painted politicians, notably in Germany, into a rhetorical corner. If the markets are so wicked, why should voters spend money on emergency aid whose purpose is to help Greece regain investors’ confidence?
Politicians were at it again this week, after Greece had asked for loans from the European Union and the IMF (see article). President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was heard vowing resolute action against the “speculation targeting Greece”. Yves Mersch, Luxembourg’s central-bank governor, denounced “increasing speculation on the capacity of Greece to honour its debt”, which he said was out of all proportion to “the healthy functioning of the markets”. When Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greek long-term debt to junk, the European Commission said huffily that it expected rating agencies like S&P to be “responsible” at this “difficult and sensitive” time.
European press coverage is marked by telling differences of vocabulary. In countries like France, even pro-business newspapers have carried headlines such as “The markets attack Portugal”. The American and British press have talked of investor confidence falling as bondholders worry that they might not be paid on time or in full. A dangerous gap of mutual mistrust and incomprehension has opened between the world of euro-zone politics and the financial markets. The gap is wide enough for a country like Greece to fall through.
而欧盟的媒体也是各执一词。在一些国家，如法国，即便是倾向市场化的媒体也用上诸如“市场开始对葡萄牙“下手” 这样的新闻标题。 英美媒体则在散播诸如“投资者信心下滑”之类的消息，因为债券持有人担心手中的债券无法得到按时或足额支付。欧元区的政治人士和金融市场间严重缺乏互信及理解，这是极其危险的。这种互信和理解上的巨大差距足以让类似希腊的一些欧盟国家陷入万劫不复的境地。
Markets are not blameless. Speculators exist, and their behaviour is not always very nice. Some analysts lump all southern economies together, when they face distinct problems. Most seriously, market participants, especially in far-off spots like America or Asia, need to shed unrealistic expectations about the political solutions that may be possible in Europe, at least any time soon.
Too many non-European commentaries follow a beguilingly simple logical path, which goes like this: the single currency is vulnerable in a crisis because it was created without a single government above it to control tax, spending and transfers between the euro zone’s richer and poorer economies. Now there is a huge crisis, so the euro is doomed unless its members pool more sovereignty when it comes to taxing, spending and borrowing, and create an economic union. Yet this logic flies in the face of the real world. Germany is only the highest-profile euro country to oppose anything that threatens its financial sovereignty and to tout the near-sacred devotion of its parliament to budget discipline. Others, like the Dutch, are hiding behind the Germans.
Some unrealistic market expectations are the fault of European politicians, who are quick to predict disaster if their favourite policies are not adopted. Events are “proving right” those who said that the euro was a half-finished project, said Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF (and a possible Socialist candidate to run against Mr Sarkozy in France’s 2012 presidential election) on the eve of a visit to Germany intended to get it to endorse the EU-IMF bail-out for Greece. Europe needed a co-ordinated economic policy and much stronger mechanisms of “solidarity”, he said. In contrast, members of Angela Merkel’s ruling party have talked of Greece leaving the euro temporarily if it fails to meet strict austerity conditions.
On April 26th Mrs Merkel’s deputy, the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, declared that offering money too soon would undermine Greek discipline. Two days later, another bigwig heading to Berlin to urge a bail-out, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Ángel Gurría, said the danger of contagion in the euro-zone called for swift action. “This is like Ebola”, Mr Gurría said. “When you realise you have it, you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”
Politicians ought to admit that markets have valid reasons to believe that it is riskier to lend money to Greece than to Germany. They should admit that rating agencies, for all their recent failings, may perform a useful function when they slap a junk rating on a country’s debt. Among other things, junk ratings warn pension funds and similarly sobersided investors to stay away: they protect widows, orphans and retired factory workers. And the leaders of the 16 euro-zone countries need to admit, after taking more than three months to spell out exactly what a political guarantee of aid for Greece might mean, that their own squabbling incompetence has given markets every reason to shun Greek debt.
Politicians are allowed to disagree: Europe is a club of democracies with diverse views. But their current disarray amounts to treating financial markets with contempt. Given how much money European governments are going to need over the coming years, that could prove an expensive mistake.
Journalism award On April 27th
our Charlemagne columnist, David Rennie, won this year's UACES-Thomson Reuters prize for “Reporting Europe”.
启示：记者奖 我刊的查理曼专栏作家戴维德.罗内因为对欧洲的报道在4月27被授予当代欧洲研究学会-汤姆逊 路透社奖。