The Coming Resolution of the European Crisis

Policy Brief
January 2012

The economic and financial problems in the euro area are clearly serious and plentiful. An increasing number of commentators and economists have begun to question whether the euro can survive. There are only two alternatives. Europe can jettison the monetary union or it can adopt a complementary economic union. Every policymaker in Europe knows that the collapse of the euro would be a political and economic disaster for all and thus totally unacceptable. Europe's overriding political imperative to preserve the integration project will surely drive its leaders to ultimately secure the euro and restore the economic health of the continent.

The key is to observe what Europe does rather than what it says. At each critical stage of the crisis, both Germany and the European Central Bank have demonstrated they will pay whatever is necessary to preserve the euro area and avoid defaults (except possibly Greece). But neither can say they will provide unlimited bailouts because this would alleviate the pressure on the debtor countries to reform and weaken the bargaining position of each creditor group (northern European governments, ECB, private lenders, IMF) vis-à-vis the others as they allocate the costs of the bailouts. Europe's key political actors in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Athens, and elsewhere will thus quite rationally exhaust all alternative options in searching for the best possible deal before at the last minute coming to an agreement. For all this turmoil, however, Europe is well on its way to completing a true economic and monetary union, and will emerge from the crisis much stronger as a result.