Economic Outlook: Germany's dilemma

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Aug. 22, 2012 at 9:33 AM
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Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is making the rounds this week, trying to renegotiate terms of Greece's international bailout.

This is no surprise. Samaras has coated his request with a smooth-talking caveat that Greece is not asking for more international aid, merely looking for more generous terms.

What can't be sugar-coated is that once again the entire eurozone experiment can be salvaged or scrapped by the decision of one country and one leader: Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The tough realization may prove to be political but the stark facts remain: Greece's $213.4 billion bailout package has not helped the country's economy. Even credit rating agency Fitch said this week enough is enough -- quit with the austerity measures already and focus on reform.

To be honest, Fitch was referring to Italy, but the sentiment is transferable.

It has dawned on influential parties -- the International Monetary Fund, to name one -- the austerity strategy failed to revive the economies of countries already pinned to the wall by enormous debt.

That means, Greece needs more time or more money, but it also means it is far too late for Europe to turn its failed strategy around. It is stuck with an international assistance program that attempted to isolate problems and buy time when it should have solved problems and acted quickly.

It should be said, Germany is not alone. Resentment is building over tossing Greece another bone in the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Slovakia and Estonia, The Wall Street Journal reports.

But the company doesn't help much, because Germany, as the eurozone's largest economy, outweighs them all and it is likely one or more of those nation's will follow Germany's lead should Merkel decide in Greece's favor.

With a new president, France is no longer as firmly dedicated as it once was to the austerity strategy and French President Francois Hollande is expected to lean on Merkel on Greece's behalf.

Leaving that drama aside for the moment, many are also looking to the European Central Bank to come to the rescue with a bond-buying program that will lower borrowing costs for Italy and Spain. And, once again, Germany's decision is the one that matters.

Germany's central bank has opposed the bond-buying proposal with, ironically perhaps given Merkel's reputation for stalling, the argument that buying bonds only puts off solving critical economic problems.

ECB President Mario Draghi, who pledged to do "whatever it takes to preserve the euro," now may have a critical ally on the ECB's executive board, Jorg Asmussen, the economist who Merkel appointed to the ECB board in January.

Asmussen also said recently the currency region's fiscal crisis, "reflects fears about the reversibility of the euro, and thus a currency exchange risk." He has also said the bond-buying plan could be "unlimited," the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.

Needless to say, a bond-buying program would take enormous pressure off the eurozone, perhaps giving Merkel, and by extension Greece, some breathing room.

In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan lost 0.27 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China gave up 0.5 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong shed 1.06 percent while the Sensex in India lost 0.21 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia dropped 0.17 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain dropped 1.17 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 0.92 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 0.87 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 fell 1 percent.

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