To be or not to be – what happens next to the Euro?
| 22-11-2016 | Lionel Pavey |
In the last few weeks, there have been many news articles published, by well-known people, about the state of the union:
- Frits Bolkestein (former European Commissioner) – monetary union has failed. In 10 years there will be a large D-mark block in northern Europe
- Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel prize winner Economics) – the euro’s days are numbered
- Otmar Issing (former chief economist ECB) – one day the Euro “house of cards” will collapse
- Jacques Delors (former president of the EC) – at some point, Europe will be hit by a new economic crisis. We do not know whether this will be in six weeks, six months, or six years. But in its current set-up, the euro is unlikely to survive that coming crisis.
End of the Euro?
More than 15 years after its creation, has the Euro run its course? After countries put all their effort into meeting the convergence criteria, did they forget to look at the diverging competitiveness between themselves?
There are numerous political elections and referendums in the next year – Italian constitutional referendum, elections in Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands. There appears to be a rise in anti-European sentiment expressed by both voters and politicians. After the perceived surprise results in the Brexit referendum and the presidential elections in America, it would be prudent to consider all possible outcomes.
So what would happen if the currency union ceased to exist? We can look back in recent history to the breakup of both the Soviet Union in the 1990’s and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1920’s. A split in the current Eurozone would appear to follow a North-South divide, leading to a revaluation of the currencies in the North and a devaluation in the South. Thanks to modern technology it would be possible to sell bonds of southern countries and move the proceeds to the north almost instantaneously. Despite the huge upheaval – rising inflation and unemployment, declining growth and investment, the situation would eventually normalize as can be seen in the new countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union. But this would all come at a very large price.
Consequences for companies
But what about the consequences for companies? If a contract existed between a Dutch company and an Italian company many questions would need to be answered – which contract law takes preference, in what currency should the contract continue, who bears the risks involved? What happens to a loan extended to a Spanish company by an Austrian bank and denominated in Euros that are no longer legal tender? It would be prudent to look at all the possible risks that a company could face if the Euro were to replaced by national currencies – what cross border contracts do they have, what is the impact to the company’s profit if the new currency devalues, what are the terms and conditions in existing loan documentation regarding covenants, how many new bank accounts would need to be opened to allow trading to continue.
Can the Euro survive? Personally, whilst the idea was good, the reality has been different. It requires a complete “One Europe” – monetary, fiscal, political, defence, law etc. Could this ever be achieved and do the people of Europe really wants this – now that is the question.
Lionel Pavey – Cash Management and Treasury Specialist