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  • European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

    Britain and the rest of Europe are in a mess. Our economies are failing to deliver higher living standards for most people – and many have lost faith in politicians’ ability to deliver a brighter future, with support for parties like UKIP soaring. Are stagnation, decline and disillusionment inevitable?

    European Spring Front cover banner
  • Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis — out now

    The financial crisis brought the world to the brink of economic breakdown. But now bankers’ bonuses are back, house prices are rising again and politicians promise recovery – all this while unemployment remains high, debts mount, frictions with China grow and the planet overheats.
    Is this really sustainable – or do we need to change course?

  • Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

    Immigration divides our globalising world like no other issue. We are being swamped by bogus asylum-seekers and infiltrated by terrorists, our jobs stolen, our benefit system abused, our way of life destroyed – or so we are told. Why are ever-rising numbers of people from poor countries arriving in Europe, North America and Australasia? Can we keep them out? Should we even be trying?

    Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them
Posted 30 Jan 2015 in Blog, Debt, euro, Financial Times, Greece
Posted 29 Jan 2015 in Blog, CapX, Immigration

Europe needs stimulus. But quantitative easing won’t make the eurozone’s real problems go away. My column for Foreign Policy

Posted 28 Jan 2015 in Blog, euro, Foreign Policy, Monetary Policy

My article on eurozone QE and Greece for CapX

Posted 21 Jan 2015 in Blog, CapX, euro, Greece, Monetary Policy

I was interviewed in the Wall Street Journal by Stephen Fidler on why, contrary to what eurozone authorities claim, Greece needs debt relief

“Of course they are going to say that,” said Philippe Legrain, a former economic adviser to the European Commission.

Mr. Legrain says Greece should have been given debt relief back in 2010 instead of being forced to pay its debts in full—largely to the benefit of banks in Germany, France and elsewhere in Northern Europe—and submit to a harsh austerity program.

Now, saddled with the bleak political and economic legacy of that decision, eurozone governments are just “kicking the can down the road ad infinitum or at least until the current crop of policy makers is retired,” Mr. Legrain said.

He doubts Greece’s debt will fall as a share of its GDP in coming years, and certainly nowhere near the official eurozone projection of below 124% of GDP by 2020. That is in part because he thinks official forecasts for growth are way too optimistic. Those forecasts see nominal GDP growth—real growth plus inflation—of close to 5% from next year to 2020.

He is also skeptical of the assumption that Greece will run primary-budget surpluses—its budget balance before interest payments on debt—equivalent to 4% or more of GDP. That is politically unrealistic, he says. “No other country has done what Greece is being asked to do,” he said.



Posted 16 Jan 2015 in Blog, euro, Greece, Wall Street Journal Europe

You don’t have to be a radical leftist to get that Athens needs debt relief. And a Syriza victory in this month’s elections might be the only way to get it. My column for Foreign Policy

Posted 14 Jan 2015 in Blog, euro, Foreign Policy, Greece

I was interviewed by The Press Project on Syriza’s economic programme for Greece. I said:

While there is much in Syriza’s programme that I don’t agree with, Alex Tsipras is right that Greece needs debt relief in order to recover and that the country should not be bled dry to pay off its foreign creditors. Where are the other voices demanding debt justice? Greece needs them. It’s a tragedy that Greece’s corrupt elites have collaborated with eurozone policymakers at the expense of ordinary Greeks who continue to suffer unnecessarily great hardship. And when new elections are called, Greeks should not be blackmailed by EU leaders into voting for Samaras again. If Angela Merkel was wise, she would make a make a virtue of a necessity and call a debt conference to write down Greece’s debts, as Germany’s were in 1953. Failing that, Greeks need to stand up for themselves and elect a government willing to threaten default on the EU loans, which were not a gesture of solidarity but a bailout of the French and German banks and investors that recklessly lent to Greece, and which are in any case unpayable.

Posted 14 Jan 2015 in Blog, euro, Greece, The Press Project

Mon article sur la faiblesse de l’économie allemande pour Books.

Commentaires sur l’article d’Olaf Gersemann et Marianne

Posted 18 Dec 2014 in Blog, Germany

European Spring has been selected as among the Financial Times’ Best Books of 2014.

Martin Wolf wrote:

This is a splendid book on the European malaise. Legrain argues compellingly that policy makers’ response to that crisis was and remains a disaster. He warns that the eurozone is still far from healthy and that the German example, which members are supposed to follow, is a delusion. He notes, too, that the UK’s recovery is built on sand.

Thank you!

Posted 01 Dec 2014 in Blog, European Spring, Financial Times

I took part in a panel discussion on Tonight with Vincent Browne on Ireland’s TV3 that went out on Thursday 27 November and was recorded in Charleville on Saturday 22 November. I argued that while the injustice of eurozone institutions blackmailing the Irish government to impose the bank debt owed to foreign creditors on Irish taxpayers was flagrant, it would be a mistake to leave the EU.

I was invited by the Ballyhea Says No group of citizens protesting against the €64 billion bank debt unjustly imposed on Irish taxpayers by eurozone policymakers, whose determination to right this wrong is admirable.

Posted 01 Dec 2014 in Blog, euro, Europe, Ireland, Media

I was interviewed by the Irish Examiner on how to obtain debt relief on the bank debt unjustly imposed on Irish taxpayers by eurozone policymakers

Posted 24 Nov 2014 in Blog, Debt, euro, Ireland, Irish Examiner

I was interviewed about the ECB and the threat of deflation in the eurozone on CNBC Europe’s Squawk Box Europe on 21 November 2014

Posted 21 Nov 2014 in Blog, CNBC, euro
Posted 21 Nov 2014 in BBC Online, Blog, Germany
Posted 21 Nov 2014 in Crash, euro, European Spring, Greece

I am quoted repeatedly in Ian Traynor’s excellent piece on European politics in last Sunday’s Observer.

Posted 21 Nov 2014 in Europe, Observer, Politics
Posted 28 Oct 2014 in Blog, CapX, euro, Finance
Posted 28 Oct 2014 in Blog, euro, Finance

Philippe Legrain, an economist and former adviser to then European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, described the tests as a “whitewash”.

“The ECB singles out less important banks in less important countries and gives the German banks a clear bill of health,” Mr Legrain said.

Read more here http://m.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/5bdcfe20-5cfc-11e4-9753-00144feabdc0.html

Others were less convinced by the outcome of the tests, however. Philippe Legrain, an economist and former EC adviser, said: “It’s ludicrous that there is only a capital shortfall of €9.5bn. The ECB singles out less important banks in less important countries and gives the German banks a clear bill of health.”

Read more here http://m.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/42fe9b80-5d0f-11e4-873e-00144feabdc0.html

Posted 27 Oct 2014 in Uncategorized

The “comprehensive” assessment of the health of eurozone banks – the ECB’s long-awaited asset-quality review (AQR) of eurozone banks and latest European Banking Authority (EBA) stress tests - concludes that eurozone banks had a capital shortfall of only €24.6 billion as of end-2013 and only €9.5 billion as of now. That is ludicrously overoptimistic. Independent assessments, for example by Professor Viral Acharya of the Stern School of Business at New York University and Sascha Steffen of the European School of Management and Technology, find much larger figures.

Throughout the crisis, the ECB has failed to act independently of eurozone banks, especially those in politically powerful countries such as Germany, while the EBA’s previous stress tests have all quickly been discredited. And given their capture by the banks they oversee, the pressure not to offend powerful governments and their desire not to spark market panic, this latest effort looks like another whitewash. Moreover, captured national supervisors, which tend to see local banks as national champions, were intimately involved in the process and doubtless had plenty of scope to hide problems, as indeed do banks themselves, which are always better informed than watchdogs. As I suggested it would, the assessment singles out less important banks in less politically powerful countries and lets German banks off the hook.

The premise for the banking union was that given that national supervisors had been less than honest about domestic banks’ problems, an independent and more rigorous eurozone supervisor was needed. But given that the AQR finds only small discrepancies with assessments by banks and national supervisors – the book value of banks’ €22 trillion in assets is adjusted by a mere €48 billion, while non-performing loans are increased by only 18% (€136 billion) to $879 billion – either the banks and national supervisors were already honest, which we know isn’t the case, or the ECB isn’t being honest either.

Even if you take the ECB at its word, the exercise is not comprehensive. The AQR covers only 57% of the risk-weighted assets of 130 banks that account for 81.6% of eurozone bank assets, ie, less than half (46.5%) of eurozone bank assets. Some of the exclusions are major and significant: Germany’s savings banks, the Sparkassen, which collectively have more than €1 trillion in assets, are not part of the exercise; the ECB also takes on good faith that many of the residential mortgage assets of German banks are properly valued – because why would they have an incentive to lie? Two of the politically powerful German banks that scraped through the assessment, bailed-out Commerzbank and HSH Nordbank (chaired by former German deputy finance minister and EBRD President Thomas Mirow), are among those benefiting from the ECB’s good faith in them.

Nor are the stress tests particularly stressful. They require banks to have at least an 8% Tier 1 capital ratio in the baseline scenario and only 5.5% in the adverse scenario. But as has been pointed out by Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane and many others, risk-weighted asset ratios are easily manipulable and are a poor guide to a bank’s strength. A simple, unmanipulated leverage ratio of assets to debts should at the very least be used as a backstop. As the calculations by Acharya and Steffen show, they suggest much bigger problems in eurozone banks than the ECB/EBA claim.

The baseline scenario in the stress tests is based on the  winter forecast of the European Commission, which has consistently been over-optimistic throughout the crisis. For example, when my book European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right was published in April, the Commission claimed that the eurozone recovery was “strengthening”. It has since stalled. The adverse scenario is based on a eurozone recession and a return of bond-market stress, but fails to cover the possibility of deflation. Indeed, the adverse scenario is based on inflation scenarios that are actually optimistic: 1.0% in 2014 (it is currently 0.3%), 0.6% in 2015 and 0.3% in 2016. Given that deflation would wreak havoc with banks’ balance sheets, that is a farce.

This is just an initial assessment; given the huge volume of information provided by the ECB and EBA, I’ve only had time to look through some of it. But it is enough to suggest that this latest exercise by eurozone banking authorities is another whitewash.

Posted 26 Oct 2014 in Blog, euro, Finance

I am quoted at length in Andy Davis’s piece for Newsweek on the eurozone economy.

Posted 24 Oct 2014 in Blog, euro, Newsweek