Crisis across eurozone far from over as debt rises, OECD warns

Crisis across eurozone far from over as debt rises, OECD warns

BRUSSELS - Reuters
Crisis across eurozone far from over as debt rises, OECD warns

A student walks by a graffiti at the Faculty of Economics calling for a general strike against government’s austerity measures last week in Porto, Portugal. Portugal followed Greece and Ireland in needing a financial rescue last year.

The eurozone’s public debt crisis is not over despite calmer financial markets this year, the OECD said yesterday, with a warning that the bloc’s banks remain weak, debt levels are still rising and fiscal targets are far from assured.

As the eurozone heads into its second slump in just three years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said the 17-nation area needed ambitious economic reforms and there could be no room for complacency.

“Market confidence in euro area sovereign debt is fragile,” the Paris-based organization said in a report on the state of the euro zone’s health. “The outlook for growth is unusually uncertain and depends critically on the resolution of the sovereign debt crisis,” it said.

In a departure from forecasts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission, the OECD sees 0.2 percent growth in the bloc in 2012, rather than an outright contraction.

While international economists are divided over just how deep any downturn will be this year, most agree that weak business confidence and budget austerity is eating into the purchasing power of European households, driving up unemployment and leaving Asian and U.S. demand holding the key to growth.

Two years into the euro zone’s sovereign debt saga, EU leaders’ commitment to fiscal discipline and the European Central Bank’s stimulus of 1 trillion euros to banks has cooled the panic in money markets late last year that drove Italian and Spanish bond yields to near unsustainable levels.

Debt levels over limits
Eurozone government debt levels are likely to reach 91 percent of economic output next year, even as the bloc enacts some of the deepest austerity programs in half a century, and well above the European Union limits for a healthy economy.

The OECD, which tracks industrialized economies to promote growth, cautioned that deficit-cutting goals needed to strike a balance with what was realistic and politically possible, or the EU’s enforcement systems could lose credibility.

The eurozone must “set out more credible and detailed medium-term budgetary plans”, the OECD said. The crisis may have increased policymakers’ determination to impose austerity, but recessions this year in southern European countries may make it harder for euro zone leaders and the European Commission to impose sanctions on member states should they miss targets.

OECD chief Angel Gurria has called for “the mother of all firewalls” - some 1 trillion euros - but finance ministers look more likely to agree to a level nearer 700 billion euros.


ATHENS – Reuters

Greece will likely hold a snap general election on May 6, a government official said yesterday.
“No decision has been taken yet but May 6 is a very probable date for the elections,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters. There was no official confirmation of the election date.
Lucas Papademos’ technocrat coalition government was formed in November with a brief mandate to complete talks on a new EU/IMF bailout and then hold parliamentary elections.