To defend against the financial collapse of the weaker members, they have created joint rescue funds approximating $1 trillion. The European Central Bank has lent trillions more, like the Federal Reserve, and has just reaffirmed that it will do as much as necessary to avoid catastrophe. The euro-zone countries have agreed on firm fiscal rules — with stiff enforcement penalties — to limit future budget deficits. They are moving toward a partial fiscal union, through which the strongest countries will help fund the weaker partners. They are working out a full banking union that will prevent bank runs by providing Europe-wide deposit insurance. The debtor countries are implementing politically difficult budget cutbacksand major structural reforms to promote growth, such as easing firing procedures and thus encouraging hiring as well as greater productivity.
The euro zone’s strong members, Germany in particular, cannot say they will provide unlimited bailouts; that would take the pressure off the debtors. Driven by the markets, however, the zone seems on track to complete the economic and monetary union that was promised two decades ago and whose absence brought on the current difficulties.
2. Greece’s departure from the euro zone would doom the single currency.
If Greece, the weakest link, is forced out of the monetary union, that would actually strengthen the currency. The result would be so chaotic for Greece that the other debtor countries, observing the wreckage, would do whatever it took to avoid the same fate, cutting their deficits even more quickly and accelerating other reforms.
Moreover, to avoid the risk of fallout elsewhere in the euro zone, the strong Europeans would couple “Grexit” with sharp increases in the size of their financial firewalls and would speed up banking and fiscal integration. By shedding Greece, the euro zone could emerge stronger.
3. German taxpayers will never bail out Greek (or Spanish or Italian) pensioners.
Germany is and will remain the paymaster of Europe, complaining loudly and demanding austerity and reform, but coughing up however much is necessary to hold the euro zone together. It has already provided the bulk of the rescue funds and financed most of the debtor countries’ deficits through the European Central Bank.
There are many reasons for Germany’s staying power. First, the entire European integration project of the past six decades, of which the euro is now the decisive symbol, arose from the devastation wreaked by Germany over the previous century. The Germans will not run the risk of destroying Europe again — something with which they could be fairly charged if they pull the plug. Moreover, Germany’s export-based economic model rests squarely on the euro: The country runs the world’s largest trade surplus, but it enjoys a highly competitive currency against the rest of the world because the exchange rate of the common currency reflects the economies of its weaker neighbors as well as the German powerhouse. And German banks are heavily exposed in the debtor countries, so German taxpayers would have to rescue them if Spain or Italy failed.