Southern Europe’s debtor states must pledge their gold reserves and national treasure as collateral under a €2.3 trillion stabilisation plan gaining momentum in Germany.
The German scheme — known as the European Redemption Pact — offers a form of “Eurobonds Lite” that can be squared with the German constitution and breaks the political logjam. It is a highly creative way out of the debt crisis, but is not a soft option for Italy, Spain, Portugal, and other states in trouble.
The plan is drafted by the German Council of Economic Experts and inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s Sinking Fund in the United States — created in 1790 to clean up the morass of debts left by the Revolutionary War. Flourishing Virginia was comparable to Germany today.
Chancellor Angela Merkel shot down the proposals last November as “completely impossible”, but Europe’s crisis has since festered, and her Christian Democrat party has since suffered crushing defeats in regional elections.
The Social Democrat opposition supports the idea. The Greens say they will block ratification of the EU Fiscal Compact in the German Bundesrat — or upper house — unless Mrs Merkel relents.
“The Redemption Pact cleverly combines the advantages of lower interest rates through joint European borrowing with a reduction of debt,” says Green leader Jürgen Trittin. “Joint liability would be limited in both time and scale.”
The plan splits the public debts of EMU states. Anything up to the Maastricht limit of 60pc of GDP would remain sovereign. Anything over 60pc would be transfered gradually into the redemption fund. This would be covered by joint bonds.
Italy would switch €958bn, Germany €578bn, France €498bn, and so forth. The total was €2.326 trillion as of November but is rising fast as Europe’s slump corrupts debt dynamics. The sinking fund would slowly retire debt over twenty years, using designated tithes akin to Germany’s “Solidarity Surcharge”.
In effect, Germany would share its credit card to slash debt costs for Italy, Spain and others. Yet it is the exact opposition of fiscal union. While eurobonds are a federalising catalyst, the fund would be temporary and self-extinguishing. “The fund is a return to the discipline of Maastricht with sovereign control over budgets,” said Dr Benjamin Weigert, the Council of Experts’s general-secretary.
The ingenious design gets around the German constitutional court, which ruled in September that the budgetary powers of the Bundestag cannot be alienated to any EU body under the Basic Law — the founding text of Germany’s vibrant post-War democracy.