As the saying goes, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The financial markets are highly nervous, and people are losing their faith that politicians can do anything to combat the growing debt crisis.
Under these conditions, the most important aim of any measures has to be to halt the snowball effect of recent events and to keep the economic wildfire from crossing over from the financial markets to the real economy. And the only way to do that is by having politicians wrestle back the helm.
What's more, Europe and the United States need to start coordinating their actions as quickly as possible. In the near term, heavily indebted countries must be given the liquidity they need in the form of new loans. In the long term, politicians need to hammer out a credible way to reduce state debt.
To meet these challenges, Europe needs to follow a six-point plan:
- First, under German and French leadership, the governments of the 17 countries making up the euro zone need to make it clear that they are prepared to use all the means at their disposal to prevent fellow euro-zone countries from going broke. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück demonstrated how to communicate such a message in a convincing way when they pledged that the German state would guarantee the savings of private German citizens.
- Second, this promise of support means that the euro rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), should be expanded without limits. Loans at cheap interest rates and with long maturities will be offered to any euro-zone country that needs it. But countries that want to refinance their debt using money from euro-zone coffers will have to give up something in return: part of their autonomy over their state finances. In real terms, this means having borrowers present their medium-term budgeting plans to lenders, raise certain taxes and abide by the stipulations of a debt brake similar to the one that Germany has introduced, which requires the government to virtually eliminate the structural deficit by 2016. The bigger the loan, the more autonomy lost. For example, euro-zone officials could even replace those of individual nations to perform duties such as collecting taxes and implementing plans to cut costs and privatize state assets.
- Third, the European Central Bank (ECB) needs to give up its role as the institution that comes to the rescue of countries in risk of default by buying up their sovereign bonds....