OP 2019: EU announces a debt jubilee
Head of Macro Analysis
Summary: Unsustainable levels of public debt prompt the ECB to act in a way that isn't as unprecedented as we would like to think.
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From Ancient Babylon to 1930s Europe, debt jubilees have been far more common
than most of us may realise. As demonstrated by economists Carmen Reinhart and
Ken Rogoff in their seminal work “This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial
Folly”, restructuring and write-offs have also played important roles in resolving
Contrary to what the Greek debt tragedy seen since 2010 would suggest, debt
forgiveness has been very common in Europe. In the interwar period, jubilees swept
across Europe to the tune of 50% of GDP for France, 36% of GDP for Italy, and 24% of
GDP for the United Kingdom.
In 2019, the unsustainable level of public debt, a populist revolt, rising interest rates
from European Central Bank tapering/lower liquidity and sluggish growth reopens
the European debate on how to get ahead of a new crisis. Italy is the key bellwether
as it faces a massive maturity wall set to reach around €300 billion in refinancing
over 2019 as interest rates spike. Quickly, Italian contagion sickens Europe’s banks as
the EU lurches into recession. The ECB resorts to new TLTRO and forward guidance
to limit the carnage, but it’s not enough and when contagion spreads to France,
policymakers understand that the EU faces the abyss.
Germany and the rest of core Europe, which refuses to let the Eurozone fall apart,
have no other choice than to back monetisation. The Economic and Monetary Union
extends a debt monetisation mandate to the ECB for all debt levels over 50% of
GDP and guarantees the rest via a Eurobond scheme while moving the controversial
Growth and Stability goalposts.
A new fiscal rule allowing the first 3% of GDP in deficits to be mutualised in 2020 is
adopted by EMU countries, with everything beyond subject to a periodic review by the
European Commission linked to the state of the EU economy.
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