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Unfair, short-sighted and self-defeating

Whatever the rationale, it is a mistake for three reasons.

The first error is to reawaken contagion risk elsewhere in the euro zone. Depositors have come through the financial crisis largely unscathed. Now they have been bailed in, some of them in breach of an explicit promise that they can be sure of getting their money back even if a bank goes belly-up.

Euro-zone leaders will spin the deal as reflecting the unique circumstances surrounding Cyprus, just as they did the Greek debt restructuring last year. But if you were a depositor in a peripheral country that looked like it needed more money from the euro zone, what would your calculation be? That you would never be treated like the people in Cyprus, or that a precedent had been set which reflected the consistent demands of creditor countries for burden-sharing? The chances of big, destabilising movements of money (into cash, if not into other banks) have just shot up.

The second error is one of equity. There is an argument to be made over the principles of bailing in uninsured depositors. And there is a case for hitting everyone in Cypriot banks before any taxpayer in another country. But there is no moral imperative for whacking Cypriot widows and leaving senior bank bondholders untouched, as appears to be the case here; or not imposing any losses on sovereign-debt investors in Cyprus; or protecting depositors in the Greek operations of Cypriot banks, as has also happened. The euro zone may cloak this bail-out in the language of fairness but it is a highly selective treatment. Indeed, the euro zone's insistence that this is a one-off makes that perfectly plain: with enough foreigners at risk and a small enough country to push around, you get an outcome like Cyprus. (That is one reason why people are now wondering about the implications of this deal for little Latvia, also home to lots of Russian money and itself due to join the euro zone in 2014.)

The final error is strategic. The Cypriot deal has no coherence in the larger context. The euro crisis has been in abeyance for a few months, thanks largely to the readiness of the European Central Bank to intervene to help struggling countries. The ECB's price for helping countries is to insist they go into a bail-out programme. The political price of going into a programme has just gone up, so the ECB's safety net looks a little thinner.



Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 17th, 2013 at 03:27:01 PM EST

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