It's not just you; European rescue plans really are getting less effective

Whereas they used to last for whole months, interventions now improve the market for mere hours.

It may be a running joke here that each new intervention in Europe is less effective than the last, with the Spanish bailout saving the world for 48 hours and the Greek elections saving it for 48 minutes, but it turns out that it's actually truer than we thought.

A new study by the Royal Bank of Canada, reported by the Wall Street Journal, finds that the positive market boost from each new intervention by EU officials is taking less and less time to unwind. Whereas the August announcement that the ECB would begin buying bonds calmed the Spanish and Italian markets for 48 days, the removal of Berlusconi in November lasted 48 hours – and the report puts the boost from Samaras winning the Greek election at just two hours.

RCB's chief economist, Tom Porcelli, partly blames computer trading for the decline, but says that the bigger reason is simply that traders have become more sceptical:

I think investors are realizing talk is cheap. If this thesis is correct, it means policy makers can ill afford to continue dragging their feet.

The problem is that its not only talk which is cheap; money is too. If you look over the list of interventions, very few of them involve any sort of structural changes. That was fine in 2008, when it looked like the crisis was a mere cyclical concern; but in Europe now, it is a very different beast. The fear that the Eurozone is an inherently unstable creation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, cycling back into more woes for peripheral countries like Greece, Spain and Italy.

Bailouts, writedowns, and summits can't solve this problem, and the ability to kick the can any further down the road is, it seems, being removed from the picture.

Antonis Samaras, the new Greek Prime Minister, caused two hours of stability. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.