Tag Archives: Government of Ireland

Why The Monetary Union Is A Failure

Over the last months it’s become quite clear that Europe‘s monetary union (EMU) is – more or less – a failure. So, what happened? And what do we do now? In this article professor Kevin O’Rourke provide a comprehensive explanation of the why’s and how’s, and put forward some suggestions for possible solutions of the greatest crisis in modern European history.

“Whether EMU can survive in the long run if the status quo persists is an open question.”

Kevin O’Rourke

“In order to understand why EMU happened, we often turn to the familiar Mundell-Fleming monetary policy trilemma. Given intra-European capital mobility, the decision by a subset of EC members to move to EMU was a logical, if radical response to the challenges posed by this trilemma. However, the institutional framework of EMU is seriously flawed,” Kevin O’Rourke writes.

Kevin O’Rourke is Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin, a co-organiser of the CEPR’s Economic History Initative, a Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.

He received his PhD from Harvard in 1989, and has taught at Columbia University, UCD, Harvard, and Sciences Po (Paris).

He is currently serving as President of the European Historical Economics Society, and an Editorial Board member of World Politics.

Here is professor O’Rourke’s recent article, syndicated by www.eurointelligence.

A Tale of Two Trilemmas

For decades economists have argued that fiscal union was a desirable, and perhaps indispensable, complement to EMU.

What we now know is that a common euro zone framework for regulating financial institutions, and dealing with the consequences of their failure, is equally important.

We have a monetary union with neither of these complementary institutions, and it is clear that this architecture is not fit for purpose.

How did we end up here, and what happens now?


To answer these questions it is helpful to turn to what Dani Rodrik has labelled the “fundamental political trilemma of the world economy”. Rodrik argues that “we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination, and economic globalization.

“If we want to push globalization further, we have to give up the nation-state or democratic politics. If we want to maintain and deepen democracy, we have to choose between the nation-state and international economic integration.”

And if we want to keep the nation-state and self-determination, we have to choose between deepening democracy and deepening globalization” (Rodrik 2011, pp. xviii-xix).

The argument is that “deep globalization” involves a commitment to not just open commodity and capital markets, with the constraints that these imply, but also to a competition for mobile factors of production that makes it difficult for national governments to adopt regulatory standards or other interventionist policies, even when their populations want this.

The solutions are either to allow popular opinion to manifest itself through supra-national mechanisms, or to ignore it.


EMU solves the political trilemma by abandoning national monetary policy-making, and delegating it to a technocratic Central Bank.

The fact that this has occurred without fiscal union, or common banking policies, can be well understood within the trilemma framework.

Regarding fiscal policy, the combination of the nation-state and democracy has prevented deeper political union: German voters (among others) do not want a transfer union, while Irish voters (among others) do not want a common tax system.

When it comes to banking regulation, on the other hand, the combination of deep economic integration and national policy-making has made it very difficult to respond to the clear demands from citizens for far stricter banking regulation.


It seems that EMU is stuck between two trilemmas, one economic and the other political. Where do we go from here?

There are several features of EU politics which are relevant in thinking about this issue.

The first is the question of governance: how decisions should be made at a supranational level is a contentious issue, which can again be illustrated by means of the trilemma. For most people, ‘democracy’ involves direct elections to parliaments which legislate.

One could leave European decision-making to the European parliament, but the nation-state remains the basic focus of political identity and authority, and national governments remain centrally involved in the process.

One solution would be to prioritize national parliaments and the nation-state: one could then have intergovernmental cooperation, but this would involve national vetoes, and it is hard to see a particularly proactive EU emerging in such a scenario.

The other solution is what we have: an essentially intergovernmental mode of decision-making that gives rise to accusations of a ‘democratic deficit’. This has created a constituency in Europe that is hostile to further integration.


The second relevant feature of EU politics is the international cleavages that exist regarding EMU. In particular, German citizens were opposed to it at the time, and this has political implications today.

The third feature is the existence of sharp intra-national cleavages in opinion regarding the EU in general, and EMU in particular.

The unskilled and the poor tend to be opposed to both, while the skilled and the rich tend to be in favour. The potency of these divisions was illustrated in the 2005 and 2008 referenda in France and Ireland, where voters divided largely along class lines.

Superimposed upon these long-run political cleavages are the effects of the global crisis of 2008-9, and the present banking crisis.

In principle, the global financial crisis could have led people to view the EU as a port in the storm, and there is an element of this in the Irish referendum approving the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. On balance, however, Eurobarometer surveys indicate that attitudes towards the EU have become more negative during the crisis, while there has been a fairly dramatic deterioration in trust in the institutions of the Union.

The interaction between a sharp economic crisis in several countries, and underlying class-based or national hostility to EMU, could turn out to be a potent one.

Even more serious could be the mishandling of the banking cum debt crisis. The decision of the ECB to veto the new Irish government’s desire to impose burden sharing on private bank bondholders is extraordinary, and provides Irish eurosceptics with an extreme example of the democratic deficit in action.

Meanwhile, taxpayers in Finland and elsewhere are revolting against the notion that they should bail out their profligate partners – recognising that this is a European banking crisis that needs a European solution might help change perceptions.

So would recognise that an end to regulatory competition in the financial sector would be a more logical concession to be sought from the Irish, in return for cutting interest rates, than an increase in their corporate tax rate.

Whether EMU can survive in the long run if the status quo persists is an open question.

Governments have tended to muddle between the stark trade-offs implied by the political trilemmas, but this crisis may force them to confront those trade-offs head-on.

What happens then is anyone’s guess.

By Kevin O’Rourke

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IMF Put Irish Bailout On Hold

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has decided to postpone its approval of the Irish bailout until its been approved by the Irish parliament – Dàil – hopefully after the debate next Wednesday, an IMF spokesperson says in a short  statement issued today.
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“Assuming parliamentary support for the package, the Managing Director could recommend approval by the IMF Executive Board of the proposed €22.5 billion IMF loan as early as December 16.”
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The International Monetary Fund


The Government of Ireland decided yesterday to table a motion on the EU-IMF Financial Assistance Program for Ireland in the Irish Parliament (Dáil). The vote on this motion is scheduled for Wednesday, December 15, 2010. Today the IMF has issued the following statement:
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“The authorities have informed us that while parliamentary approval of the EU-IMF support package is not legally required, the Irish Government has put the motion before parliament to strengthen political support for the agreement.  In deference to Ireland’s parliamentary process, the IMF has decided to postpone consideration by its Board of the proposed loan under the Extended Fund Facility until after the debate. Assuming parliamentary support for the package, the Managing Director could recommend approval by the IMF Executive Board of the proposed €22.5 billion IMF loan as early as December 16.”

“We welcome the first implementation measures of the 2011 budget – stipulating the fiscal consolidation path and important reform measures involved in the program – have recently been passed by the Irish Parliament, confirming Ireland’s strong commitment to the program and the policies involved.”

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The Brilliance Of A Bailout

The European Central Bank tried to force Ireland into an EU/IMF bailout, according to Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. Today the ECB is forced to buy Irish bonds in the market to prevent the recently bailed out country’s economy from total collapse. And at the same time the ECB is increasing the bailout pressure on Portugal. Excuse me, but I can’t see the logic.

“The government was cleaned out in the negotiations.”

Michael Noonan


While the 111 billion dollar rescue package to Ireland was supposed to calm the financial markets, the exact opposite has happened. The volatility and the cost of insuring national debt by Credit-default Swaps is just getting higher and higher. Yesterday we saw the biggest slide in Spanish government bonds since the euro’s debut in 1999. Today the ECB is intervening in the market to keep Irish bonds from going down the tubes.

According to two anonymous sources, the ECB have bought a “small amount” of short time Irish government bonds Tuesday morning, Bloomberg reports.

The yield on Irish 2-year bonds are up by 0,14%, as of 1 PM (CET) today.

The cost of insuring Portugal against default rose 11.5 basis points to a record 551 today, according to CMA prices, and the ECB is now putting pressure on the Portuguese government to apply for a bailout, according to the Irish minister Dermot Ahern.

“Clearly there were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us in as a sovereign state, into making an application, throwing in the towel before we had even considered it as a government,” Ahern says in an interview with the Irish state broadcaster RTE today. Adding: “And if you notice, they are doing the same with Portugal now.”

Asked about who was pressuring Ireland, he says: “Quite obviously people from within the ECB.”

Ireland’s crisis has forced the ECB to buy government bonds and pump money into its banking system.

Irish domestic lenders increased their reliance on ECB funding by 3.3 percent in October and the central bank today purchased more Irish bonds, according to two people familiar with the transaction, Bloomberg reports.

The bailout has sparked a wave of domestic criticism accusing Prime Minister Brian Cowen of giving up the country’s sovereignty for punitive terms.

More than 50,000 people took to the streets of Dublin on November 27, the day before the government agreed an average interest rate of 5.8 percent for the loans from the EU and IMF.

“The government was cleaned out in the negotiations,” says Michael Noonan, finance spokesman for Fine Gael, the largest opposition party.

“The interest rate of 5.8 percent is far too high and verges on the unaffordable.”

The Irish Bailout - Illustrated

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The risk for Europe is that Spain’s economy is twice as big as that of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined, meaning the euro region’s 750 billion-euro bailout fund may not be big enough if the country resorts to aid. Spain’s 10-year government bonds slid yesterday by the most since the euro’s debut.

The extra yield investors demand to hold the securities instead of benchmark German bunds widened to euro-era records.

(See also: Belgium Joins The PIIGS: And Then They Were Six)

“The big elephant in the room is not Portugal but, of course, it’s Spain,” Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor, said at a conference in Prague yesterday. “There is not enough official money to bail out Spain if trouble occurs.”

The European Central Bank may have to step up purchases of Spanish government bonds and backstop its banking system if the country runs into financing difficulties, Citigroup’s chief economist, Willem Buiter, wrote  in a note to investors yesterday. “Once Spain needs assistance, the support of the ECB will be critical,” Buiter said.

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10-year sovereign spreads (against 10 year German bunds)

Previous Day Close Yesterday’s Close This morning
France 0.459 0.521 0.535
Italy 1.753 1.993 1.998
Spain 2.538 2.787 2.746
Portugal 4.484 4.564 4.477
Greece 9.299 9.329 9.79
Ireland 6.866 6.966 6.956
Belgium 1.013 1.214 1.192

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