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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The Conservative-DUP deal is great news for the DUP, but bad news for Theresa May

The DUP has secured a 10 per cent increase in Northern Ireland's budget in return for propping up the Prime Minister.

Well, that’s that then. Theresa May has reached an accord with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep herself in office. Among the items: the triple lock on pensions will remain in place, and the winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested across the United Kingdom. In addition, the DUP have bagged an extra £1bn of spending for Northern Ireland, which will go on schools, hospitals and roads. That’s more than a five per cent increase in Northern Ireland’s budget, which in 2016-7 was just £9.8bn.

The most politically significant item will be the extension of the military covenant – the government’s agreement to look after veterans of war and their families – to Northern Ireland. Although the price tag is small, extending priority access to healthcare to veterans is particularly contentious in Northern Ireland, where they have served not just overseas but in Northern Ireland itself. Sensitivities about the role of the Armed Forces in the Troubles were why the Labour government of Tony Blair did not include Northern Ireland in the covenant in 2000, when elements of it were first codified.

It gives an opportunity for the SNP…

Gina Miller, whose court judgement successfully forced the government into holding a vote on triggering Article 50, has claimed that an increase in spending in Northern Ireland will automatically entail spending increases in Wales and Scotland thanks to the Barnett formula. This allocates funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on spending in England or on GB-wide schemes.

However, this is incorrect. The Barnett formula has no legal force, and, in any case, is calculated using England as a baseline. However, that won’t stop the SNP MPs making political hay with the issue, particularly as “the Vow” – the last minute promise by the three Unionist party leaders during the 2014 independence referendum – promised to codify the formula. They will argue this breaks the spirit, if not the letter of the vow. 

…and Welsh Labour

However, the SNP will have a direct opponent in Wales. The Welsh Labour party has long argued that the Barnett formula, devised in 1978, gives too little to Wales. They will take the accord with Northern Ireland as an opportunity to argue that the formula should be ripped up and renegotiated.

It risks toxifying the Tories further

The DUP’s socially conservative positions, though they put them on the same side as their voters, are anathema to many voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Although the DUP’s positions on abortion and equal marriage will not be brought to bear on rUK, the association could leave a bad taste in the mouth for voters considering a Conservative vote next time. Added to that, the bumper increase in spending in Northern Ireland will make it even harder to win support for continuing cuts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All of which is moot if the Conservatives U-Turn on austerity

Of course, all of these problems will fade if the Conservatives further loosen their deficit target, as they did last year. Turning on the spending taps in England, Scotland and Wales is probably their last, best chance of turning around the grim political picture.

It’s a remarkable coup for Arlene Foster

The agreement, which ticks a number of boxes for the DUP, caps off an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster. The significant increase in spending in Northern Ireland – equivalent to the budget of the entirety of the United Kingdom going up by £70bn over two years  – is only the biggest ticket item. The extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland appeals to two longstanding aims of the DUP. The first is to end “Northern Ireland exceptionalism” wherever possible, and the second is the red meat to their voters in offering better treatment to veterans.

It feels like a lifetime ago when you remember that in March 2017, Foster was a weakened figure having led the DUP into its worst election result since the creation of the devolved assembly at Stormont.

The election result, in which the DUP took the lion’s share of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland, is part of that. But so too are the series of canny moves made by Foster in the aftermath of her March disappointment. By attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral and striking a more consensual note on some issues, she has helped shed some of the blame for the collapse of power-sharing, and proven herself to be a tricky negotiator.

Conservatives are hoping it will be plain sailing for them, and the DUP from now on should take note. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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