In the wake of Cyprus, the euro can survive

Everyone hold your breath... and then chill out and have a Easter egg.

This weekend you should spend as much time as possible holding your breath or crossing your fingers. Storm clouds are gathering throughout Europe and the downpour could begin as early as Tuesday. First of all there is the ongoing Cypriot tragi-comedy; tragic for innocent islanders and retirees who just saw the island as a nice place to keep their savings and see out their days, comedy with regard to the performance of the Troika; judge, jury and executioner in the form of the European Central Bank, (ECB), the International Monetary Fund and European Commission.

Secondly, there is the Italian political imbroglio, which this week descended into chaos as Grillo, the leader of the neo-anarchist Five Star Movement, called M. Bersani and Berlusconi something almost unprintable and Bersani said, “only an insane person would want to govern this country, which is in a mess and faces a difficult year ahead”, following his failed attempt to comply with the President’s request to form a government, raising the likelihood of months of uncertainty and new elections. Rumours abound of a possible credit rating downgrade over the weekend.

Thirdly, Slovenia is quietly imploding and nudging its way onto traders’ screens. The political situation is not much better than Italy’s and the banking system has bad loans equal to 20 per cent of GDP. These resonances caused its government bond yields to soar this week, following the Cypriot "solution".

Along with these near-term, possibly explosive threats, the Eurozone has to continue to cope with the slow-burn problems of Spain, which is failing to meet deficit reduction targets and, perhaps most frighteningly, France’s slowdown. Throw in the chasm opening up between President Hollande and Chancellor Markel and the Euro’s prospects may seem dire.

Notwithstanding all of the above, I remain cautiously, but resolutely certain that the Euro can survive, at least for the foreseeable future - meaning the next three years, say.

If we have learnt nothing else over the last few years it should be that the political will to ensure its survival is enormous and that the ECB is prepared to almost totally divorce itself from its Bundesbank heritage to play its part. Witness the protest resignations of two senior Bundesbankers from the ECB since the crisis broke. Merkel will masterfully persuade the German people to provide just enough largesse to southern Europe, without enraging her populace beyond breaking point, she will probably bend just enough on austerity to satisfy Hollande’s calls for growth, and after the elections she will probably even support the issuance of joint and several Eurobonds, which put all nations on the hook to the same degree. Finally, this Thursday, Draghi will give a masterful performance at the post-ECB meeting press conference, in an echo of his famous "whatever it takes" speech last year.

Cyprus can become a tragic memory, Italy is rich and will survive, Slovenia is small, and Spain and France will slowly respond to growth enhancement. Meanwhile, the US will surprise us all with its outperformance this year, once again acting as an economic locomotive.

So, let your breath out and have an Easter egg, if that is your fancy.

Look at these lambs. They're not worried about Cyprus. Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle