WHEN tapes of conversations between senior executives at the failed Anglo Irish Bank at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 were leaked in June, Irish credibility as a true penitent among the five bailed-out euro-zone countries took a knock. At last month’s European summit Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who calls the shots in the 17-state currency block, expressed her contempt for the bankers’ conduct, which included crass anti-German sentiment.
But any fears that this unwelcome reminder of past sins and sinners might upset Ireland’s path to exit from the rescue programme have been short-lived. This week’s review by the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF – concluded that Ireland should be able to leave on schedule by the end of 2013. That’s precisely three years after fiscal and banking woes forced the Irish to go cap in hand for €67 billion ($87 billion) of official loans from Europe and the IMF.
A punctual Irish exit has seemed likely for some time if only to show that the German-inspired programmes of austerity and structural reform can work. The worse things get in other bailed-out countries – Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain (for its banks) – the more that Ireland is favoured. Thus Portugal’s recent political ructions, which has caused the planned inspection by the troika on July 15th to be postponed, have strengthened Ireland’s hand.
Moreover, Irish debt managers have deftly exploited chances to raise funds as Ireland’s fiscal credibility improved and its bond yields subsided. They have benefited along with the other crisis countries from the ECB’s commitment last September to make unlimited purchases of bonds in secondary markets under strict conditions – its “Outright Monetary Transactions” (OMT) programme, which has proved so successful a deterrent that it has not yet been used. Helped by the debt-management agency’s forays into the markets, the Irish government is now fully funded into early 2015.
That’s handy because on the economic front things haven’t been going so smoothly. Irish cheerleaders can no longer brag about their country being a bright spot in the recessionary gloom on the euro-zone southern and western periphery. In fact, GDP has shrunk for three consecutive quarters (the second half of last year and the first quarter of 2013) as exports have been hit first by a slowdown in global trade and secondly by the lapsing of patents on blockbuster drugs that have hurt pharmaceutical exports. The budget deficit remains high at 7.5% of GDP and public debt will reach 124% this year, a figure that underestimates the effective burden because a big chunk of Irish GDP is profits made by foreign multinationals which are lightly taxed.
The Irish government thus has good reasons to be nervous about having to fend for itself. That’s why Michael Noonan, the finance minister, is angling for a backstop to be available after the bail-out ends. But it is not just a credit line that the Irish are seeking: they want to be eligible for the ECB’s OMT programme.
That will be possible, however, only if the Irish apply to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the eurozone’s bail-out fund, for an “enhanced conditions” credit line. The Irish argue that there would be no need to comply with extra conditions, but whether the other euro-zone finance ministers who are on the board of the ESM will concur remains to be seen. Ireland may find that the best it can secure is a deal where it is still subject to intrusive monitoring.
If all goes to plan the Irish exit from its ignominious bail-out at the end of this year will be hailed as a big success. But the reality will be fuzzier. The official funding may end but the price of support remaining available if necessary is that Ireland will not secure full independence.
Repossession is the order of the day from the IMF.
So what is next on the IMF agenda? Is it to be the total destruction of the Irish Nation… Shortly to be known as “Destitution Incorporated ” administered by the IMF
The International Monetary Fund has delivered a tough assessment of Ireland’s economic situation, highlighting lack of progress by banks and dangers of the country’s debt becoming unsustainable if growth forecasts are missed.
The fund has criticised Irish banks for “inadequate progress” in dealing with non-performing loans.
In its latest review of Ireland’s bailout programme, the fund also raises concerns that banks are losing money even before putting cash aside to cover bad loans.
The IMF states that lenders are “only beginning to tackle non-performing loans”.
It says repossessions are low at 0.3% of total mortgage arrears in 2012, compared to 3.25% in Britain and the United States.
The IMF suggested a need to strengthen the efficiency of the repossession regime.
It also said that the designation of specialist judges could concentrate expertise for handling a “potentially larger volume of repossession cases in an expedited manner”, while maintaining protections for homeowners.
While acknowledging progress to date, the fund expects Ireland’s economy to grow by 1.1% this year, by 2.2% next year and by 2.7% in 2015.
However, it says if growth was to fall short of these targets and to remain a sluggish 0.5% per year, public debt would escalate to one-and-a-half times the size of the economy by 2021.
That would put the economy on what the IMF calls an “unsustainable path”.
It says allowing the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to directly invest in Irish banks could play “an invaluable role” in improving the country’s prospects for recovery and making the public debt burden more sustainable.
The high unemployment rate is also a focus of IMF attention.
“If involuntary part time workers and workers only marginally attached to the labour force – two groups that registered significant increases – are also accounted for the unemployment and underemployment rate stands at a staggering 23%,” the review says.
Above German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble
Ahead of today’s visit to Dublin by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, German officials said retooling the emergency loans to the defunct bank was more politically palatable than transferring Irish legacy bank debt to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund.
Irish officials indicated yesterday that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan would concentrate in today’s talks on the promissory note – issued to pay depositors and creditors of Anglo Irish Bank and, later, Irish Nationwide – and would return to the legacy debt issue when there was more promise of political progress.
Mr Schäuble will hold talks with Mr Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin ahead of a joint press conference. Both sides played down expectations of substantial progress today, ahead of Thursday’s talks in Berlin between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
“On the promissory notes it’s difficult to say anything in public as, officially speaking, this is European Central Bank territory,” said a German political source.
“A promissory note deal wouldn’t change the actual amount of debt,” said another official, “but would turn it into a 40-year mortgage.”
The promissory note obligations, an IOU issued to stabilise Anglo Irish Bank, have been the subject of ongoing technical discussions with the ECB.
TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny said “an avalanche of speculation” over Ireland’s debt legacy last weekend was damaging as he confirmed the process of assistance for Ireland under the European Stability Mechanism was under way.
He said this process did not involve a second bailout programme, and reiterated the decision of June 29th to break the link between sovereign and bank debt.
Speaking at the announcement of 100 jobs at Voxpro in Cork yesterday, the Taoiseach referred to what he described as damaging speculation last weekend over comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel which appeared to rule out backdated recapitalisation’s of euro zone banks.
“There was an avalanche of comment and speculation as if this was reality last weekend. Doing down our country, in fact, when clearly at the very highest level of the European Union we have a clear understanding from our communiqué and from the press conference with the French president of what that understanding actually is. So we are now in a process of negotiation and discussion about how the assistance can be given to Ireland, not if any assistance can be given to Ireland.”
Responding to comments by a spokesman for Dr Merkel’s CDU party yesterday, who said new conditions would have to apply if the ESM was used in such a manner, Mr Kenny said that he had never “envisaged” a second bailout.
“I wouldn’t put any kind of term like that on it,” Mr Kenny said. “Part of that decision was to recognise the special circumstances that apply in Ireland’s case in that our banks have already been recapitalised at public expense.
“The joint communiqué issued by myself and the German chancellor on Sunday … clearly says that the special case that applies in Ireland will be taken into account in the negotiations and the discussions that are now the mandate of the eurogroup or the ministers for finance.”
He said the Government was pursuing the decision made on June 29th to bring it to reality.
“This is not a sort of troika bailout situation that applies now, Ireland’s banks have been recapitalised to the highest level. that’s a matter of historical record. That burden has been put on our taxpayers and that’s why we are pursuing the decision taken on June 29th to bring that to reality which will ease our position somewhat.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have issued a joint communiqué saying that Ireland’s banking crisis was “unique” and that Ireland was to be considered a special case in the forthcoming negotiations over the role of the new bailout fund the European Stability Mechanism in supported troubled banks.
The statement followed a phone call between the two leaders this afternoon.
It comes after two days of opposition attacks over Ms Merkel’s apparent rejection on Friday of the ESM being used for so-called legacy debt.
Her remarks triggered a barrage of opposition attacks against Mr Kenny, who had hailed the summit as a success.
While Berlin confirmed that the chancellor meant that only future debts would be covered, over the next 12 hours the Chancellery issued two apparently mollifying statements supporting Ireland’s reform efforts and a return to the bond markets.
This evening, following a half hour phone call, the two leaders issued the joint statement reaffirming the commitment of 29 June, which said that Ireland’s bank debt situation would be looked at.
Encouragingly from the Government’s point of view, the statement described Ireland as a special case and the circumstances surrounding the banking crisis as “unique”.
This would be taken into account by eurozone finance ministers, the statement concluded, as they begin negotiations on how the ESM will work, once a banking supervision system is in place.
The statement did not spell out that legacy debt will be covered but it will provide the coalition with some badly needed cover following the criticism it has taken since Friday lunchtime.
October 21, 2012 by namawinelake
“It’s high time that we brought democracy and transparency to Europe – the fight’s not over yet” Deputy Thomas Pringle in July 2012 when the Irish Supreme Court referred to the European courts, three issues in his bid to stop the European Stability Mechanism
The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was finally launched on 8th October, after two legal challenges – one in Germany, one in Ireland – both failed. However, whilst the bid by Donegal South-West TD, Thomas Pringle (pictured above) at Ireland’s High Court and subsequently, Supreme Court, failed to stop the launch of the ESM, his challenge still has the potential to put an end to the scheme, at least for now. The Supreme Court in Ireland referred a number of matters to Europe’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Luxembourg, and the oral hearing is set to commence this Tuesday on 23rdOctober, 2012. Whilst the hearing will not stop the scheduled payment of €258m into the scheme by Ireland tomorrow, the hearing does have the potential to stop the ESM in its tracks if the Court ultimately decides the manner in which the ESM has been created is incompatible with EU law. The Supreme Court in Ireland thought the matters were sufficiently arguable and legally feasible to allow it to refer these matters to Europe where they have been fast-tracked, though the Irish Supreme Court did not grant Deputy Pringle his request for an injunction halting progress of the ESM pending the ultimate outcome of the court hearings. This blogpost examines the issues, and will be the flagship blogpost on the subject with updates posted as the case progresses. The three matters which the Supreme Court in Ireland has referred to the CJEU are: 1. Is the ESM Treaty compatible with the EU Treaties? 2. Is the related decision by heads of government to amend the EU Treaties legally valid? 3. Can the ESM come into operation before the EU Treaty amendment comes into force (1st January 2013 at earliest)? Deputy Thomas Pringle has said he welcomes the fast-tracked hearing which will start on Tuesday and has said “I welcome the decision of the CJEU to use the accelerated procedure available to it to allow for an oral hearing in October. This shows that the Court recognises the urgency of this matter and its utmost importance to all EU states involved, including Ireland.” Deputy Pringle has stressed the potential exposure to Ireland of membership of the ESM. We seem to have formed the impression that money in the ESM will flow in only one direction to Ireland – that’s wrong, tomorrow €258m is set to be paid into the fund by Ireland and this will grow to over €1.25bn in the next 18 months. And the ESM commits us to pay in a maximum of €11bn to the scheme should things really get out of hand in Europe, and worse, the ESM allows itself the freedom to increase the uppermost cap. Though the hope here was that the ESM would be a backstop source of cheap funding when our IMF/EU programme expires at the end of 2013, tere is risk to Ireland from the ESM – it is not a one-way bet. Should Deputy Pringle be successful there will be an urgent need for European leaders to devise a lawful bailout mechanism, and you never know, we might have to have a new referendum in Ireland to approve such a mechanism. You can read the Irish Supreme Court decisions here and here. You can read the flagship blogpost on the High Court and Supreme Court hearings here. There will be updates here on the progress of the case.
Moments after Mr Kenny declared in Brussels that he had achieved solid progress overnight at a tense EU summit, Dr Merkel moved abruptly to curtail the scope of the effort to break the link between bank and sovereign debt.
The chancellor’s intervention, which took high-level EU figures by surprise, has cast a new cloud of uncertainty over the feasibility of Mr Kenny’s demands.
For the first time in public, she backed her finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in his assertion that national bodies must remain responsible for most banking debts.
The question of who takes responsibility for “legacy” banking debts has emerged as one the most sensitive issues to be settled in complex talks on the recapitalisation of stricken banks by the ESM.
Although EU leaders decided at the summit to farm out this discussion to euro zone finance ministers, Dr Merkel pre-empted these talks even though the EU leaders did not address this question at the summit.
Their focus had been on fixing a January 1st deadline for a legal agreement on new powers for the European Central Bank to supervise commercial banks, a precondition for direct ESM aid to banks.
This was a “very progressive” step forward, Mr Kenny told reporters. “So that’s good news from that point of view for Ireland and for Europe.”
It was only shortly afterwards, in a briefing room down the corridor from where Mr Kenny held his own press conference, that Dr Merkel spoke.
Answering a reporter’s question about the possibility that any ESM rescue of Spain’s banks would damage her re-election campaign next year, she ruled out the fund taking on retrospective liabilities.
“I hadn’t even thought of the elections before hearing such ideas here. The capital needs of Spanish banks have just been evaluated and a programme for their recapitalisation has been agreed,” she said.
Spain only needs to ask for the tranches of funds. There will be no retroactive direct recapitalisation, either.” These remarks were immediately seen as an implicit rebuff to the demands of Mr Kenny and his supporters for a mutualisation of banking debt.
A German government spokesman in Berlin later said her remarks were simply a reiteration of the current legal position and that there was nothing new in them; they were not about Ireland.
In Dublin, the Government spokesman also sought to play down the significance of her remarks.
“We understand that Chancellor Merkel was asked a direct question about the recapitalisation of Spanish banks and she replied in that context,” he said. His statement also noted that the pledge by EU leaders to sever the loop between bank and sovereign debt still stands.
The possibility of the ESM paying for existing bank debts is crucial for Spain, given fears that its banking crisis could overwhelm the government of premier Mariano Rajoy.
This, in turn, has prompted anxiety in France and Italy that any escalation of the Spanish banking emergency would affect them.
Top-ranked French officials said the notion of the ESM taking on historic debt was seriously in play in the wake of the summit. “The discussion we must have is to guarantee the retroactive effect of this, which is very important vis-à-vis the markets. It will take some time – weeks or months,” a senior Elysée figure said.
“It’s important to reflect on the stability of the euro zone and how to deal with this historic problem.”
With Germany holding fast to the line that the ESM must not take on “legacy” debts in Ireland or any other country, France is pushing hard for a bigger effort to break the link between bank and sovereign debt.
The French position will strengthen the Government’s hand after a week in which Germany aligned with Finland and the Netherlands to say the ESM should bear only losses incurred under the fund’s supervision.
The divisions between Germany and France over Ireland come as they move together to advance plans for a European tax on financial transactions. Following the failure to achieve unanimous EU backing for such a tax, the two countries sought support yesterday for an “enhanced co-operation” procedure in which a group of at least nine like-minded states would move ahead together.
THE GOVERNMENT’S campaign for debt relief was dealt a fresh blow yesterday as Germany, Finland and the Netherlands said national bodies should remain liable for most bank losses. The three states are insisting that governments remain on the hook for loss-making legacy assets even after any bank rescues by the ESM fund.
This demand, laid down by the countries’ finance ministers, is in apparent defiance of the decision by EU leaders in June to break the link between sovereign and bank debt.
After talks near Helsinki, the ministers said the ESM should assume only a limited burden if it makes direct bank recapitalisations.
The intervention comes as the Government faces persistent difficulty in its pursuit of a deal in Europe to ease the burden of the banking debt.
There is increasing concern in Dublin about German-led backsliding on the promise of a radical new deal to settle the banking crisis in Ireland and Spain. One of the Government’s core objectives is for the ESM to take direct equity stakes in the surviving banks: AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB.
“It leaves the situation extremely uncertain from an Irish point of view,” said John Fitzgerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute. “Depending on how it is interpreted, it may or may not allow the Irish government to sell its interests in the surviving Irish banks to the ESM.”
EU leaders agreed in principle three months ago to allow direct bank recapitalisations by the ESM, the basic idea being for the European fund to replace governments as the final backstop on banking losses.
However, German minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Finland’s Jutta Urpilainen and Dutch minister Jan Kees de Jager said they want to curtail the ESM’s exposure to bad debts. “The ESM can take direct responsibility of problems that occur under the new supervision, but legacy assets should be under the responsibility of national authorities,” they said.
The main advantage of issuing a long-term bond is that the State would not have to pay the €3 billion a year it gives to the Irish Bank Resolution Corp (the former Anglo) on the back of the promissory notes. At present, the bank takes that money and gives it to the Irish Central Bank, which is funding IBRC through emergency liquidity assistance.
A Government spokesman declined to comment last night beyond saying that “complex technical discussions are ongoing and the objective is to deliver the best deal possible for the Irish taxpayer”.
EU powers are pushing to dispose of a series of key questions in the debt crisis by the end of the year in an effort to minimise the risk that the issues will become embroiled in the German election campaign.
They are now pressing Spain to decide quickly on bailout aid and have resolved to rush through complex legislation on a pan-European banking supervisor.
The German courts rule that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the EU’s fiscal compacts are compatible with the German Law.
This is a great day for Germany and a good day for Europe,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The European Parliament leapt to its feet in thunderous applause at the announcement of the news.
However, in reality, the ruling is a yes “but” judgement.
The court capped Germany’s ESM share at €190bn and ordered the government to “express clearly that it cannot be bound by the Treaty” if the limit is breached. This prevents the ESM increasing Germany’s share if Spain and Italy seek additional funding.
This capping of the fund could in the future prove a real obstacle to political and economic problems.
The Karlsruhe court said both houses of the German parliament, including the Bundesrat must be consulted on all EU bailouts. The Bundestag “must individually approve” each large rescue package and is prohibited from establishing permanent mechanisms based on international treaties to bypass this ruling. This means no ESM package for Spain, and Italy can go ahead without a vote in the Bundestag.
An acquisition of government bonds on the secondary market by the ECB aiming at financing the Members’ budget independently of the capital markets is prohibited, as it would circumvent the prohibition of monetary financing,” the ruling said. Where this leaves the Draghi bond plan is anybodies guess.
Overall, there is an element of “stalemate” to the ruling and so the circus continues and the dog collars remain firmly fixed.
For now, the statues quo remains but expect the fun and games to start after Christmas.