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Rome Is On The Verge Of Detroit-Style Bankruptcy | Zero Hedge

Rome Is On The Verge Of Detroit-Style Bankruptcy | Zero Hedge.

With European peripheral bond yields collapsing every single day to new all time lows (primarily driven by Europe’s near-certainty that a US-style QE is imminent as we first showed here in November, despite Mario Draghi’s own words from November 2011 that a QE intervention is virtually impossible), increasingly more of Europe is trading just as safe, if not more, as the United States. And in keeping with the analogies, considering a major US metropolitan center, Detroit, recently went bankrupt, it is only fair that Europe should sacrifice one of its own historic cities to the gods of negative cash flows. The city in question, Rome, which as the WSJ reports, is “teetering on the brink of a Detroit-style bankruptcy.”

Rome, the eternal city, which survived two millennia of abuse from everyone may be preparing to lay its arms at the hands of unprecedented corruption, capital mismanagement and lies

On the first day of his premiership, Matteo Renzi had to withdraw a decree, promulgated by his predecessor, that would have helped the city of Rome fill an €816 million ($1.17 billion) budget gap, after filibustering by opposition lawmakers in the Parliament on Wednesday signaled the bill had little likelihood of passing.

Devising a new decree that provides aid to Rome will now cost Mr. Renzi time and political capital he intended to deploy in promoting sweeping electoral and labor overhauls during his first weeks in office.

For Rome’s city fathers, though, the setback has more dire consequences. They must now face unpalatable choices—such as cutting public services, raising taxes or delaying payments to suppliers—to gain time as they search for ways to close a yawning budget gap. If it fails, the city could be placed under an administrator tasked with selling off city assets, such as its utilities.

“It’s time to stop the accounting tricks and declare Rome’s default,” said Guido Guidesi, a parliamentarian from the Northern League, which opposed the measure.

Alas, if one stops the accounting tricks, not only Rome, but all of Europe, as well as the US and China would all be swept under a global bankruptcy tsunami. So it is safe to assume that the tricks will continue. Especially when one considers that as Mirko Coratti, head of Rome’s city council said on Wednesday, “A default of Italy’s capital city would trigger a chain reaction that could sweep across the national economy.” Well we can’t have that, especially not with everyone in Europe living with their head stuck in the sand of universal denial, assisted by the soothing lies of Mario Draghi and all the other European spin masters.

So what is the catalyst that would push the city into default? Trash.

No really: an appeal for a €485 million transfer from the central government to compensate Rome for the extra costs it incurs in its role as a major tourist destination, the nation’s capital and the seat of the Vatican. “Rome is unique compared with other cities” and deserves state support because of huge numbers of visitors who use services but don’t contribute much to the economy, Mr. Marino said in a recent interview. But even before the government of Enrico Letta fell this month, the proposed transfer had prompted complaints that the aid was unfair, given the dire straits of other cities.

Rome has long struggled to balance its books. Because of its dearth of industry, the city depends heavily on trash-collection levies and the sale of bus and subway tickets. It struggles much more than other European cities to collect either one. About one in four passengers on Rome’s public transit system doesn’t buy tickets, costing around €100 million in lost revenue annually, compared with just 2% of passengers on London’s public transit network.

Meanwhile, employee absenteeism at Rome’s public-transit and trash-collection agencies runs as high as 19%, far above the national average.

But how can Rome’s clean up costs be a surprise? Well, they aren’t. What is however, is the severity of the recession that crushed the national economy.

Just six years ago, some €12 billion in city debts was transferred to a special fund subsidized and guaranteed by the national government in a move aimed at giving Rome a fresh start. But Italy’s economy has shrunk by almost 10% since then, eroding the tax base just as national austerity programs pushed extra costs onto local governments.

Even before the withdrawal of the “Save Rome” decree, Mr. Marino was facing unpalatable choices. He has already raised cremation and cemetery fees and plans to centralize city procurement, which he says will save €300 million a year.

Now, without the transfer from the central government, he may be forced to impose income and property tax surcharge—already among the highest in the country—and to cut salaries to the city’s 20,000 employees or trim city services such as child-care centers or job-training programs—also unpopular moves.

What would happen then is unknown, but hardly pleasant:

The political fallout could be severe. The mayor of Taranto, a southeast city that defaulted on €637 million in debt in 2006, has suffered some of the lowest poll ratings in the country after cutting back services.

Oh well, another government overhaul is imminent then, after all it is Italy. Just as long as it is not elected. Because then there woud be a chance that someone who actually sees behind the facade of lies, like Beppe Grillo for example, may just be elected PM, and then all bets are off.

Howeber, that will never be allowed, and instead Rome will almost surely be bailed out. That however would open a whole new can of worms as every other insolvent city demands the same treatment:

A new appeal for a special transfer to Rome could embolden demands that other cities in distress be helped, even though Italy’s public finances are already strained. Naples is close to having to declare bankruptcy. Reggio Calabria has been run by a special commissioner for the past three years, but may still default on €694 million in debt, according to Italy’s Audit Court.

And if all else fails, there is the nuclear option: “Some politicians say Rome should sell assets such as ACEA, the electric utility that is worth about €1.8 billion and is 51% owned by the city.

True: and Goldman, or some other bank filled to the gills with the Fed’s generous excess reserves, would be happy to swoop in and scoop up hard Roman assets providing it with just the right cover for creeping global encroachment. The benefactors? A select few equity shareholders. Because for every million or so peasants who suffer, a few rich men have to get even richer in the New Feudal Normal.

European Banking Crisis: the calm before the storm ? | The Cantillon Observer

European Banking Crisis: the calm before the storm ? | The Cantillon Observer.

Austrian business cycle theory explains that the “bust” phase of that cycle is created by extension of cheap and plentiful credit by a fractional reserve banking (FRB) system.  A FRB  system is inherently fragile during the bust phase as its’ leverage(lending as % of own capital) exposes the banks to the emerging tsunami of non-performing loans and impaired collateral that are the manifestations of malinvestment.

Yet, in today’s  protected and regulated banking industry, the “bust” phase of the cycle is delayed and distorted by the wide-ranging interventionism of regulators, central banks and governments. The ongoing crisis in the European banking sector is evidence of this. Its’ problems of insolvency are unresolved. The ECB is at the centre of interventionist efforts to stall and mitigate a European  banking sector collapse that looks increasingly likely within the next 18 months. 1/

Last week the ECB kept interest rates unchanged at 0.25 %. The exchange value of the euro rose and the mainstream media and  financial industry pundits  all bemoaned Mr Draghi’s immobilism in the face of worsening price deflation 2/. As my November 2013 commentary indicated 3/, there is growing political pressure on the ECB from southern European governments to launch a new round of Eurozone members’ sovereign  bond purchases.4/ , as public debt to GDP ratios are increasing for countries on the periphery; and menacingly high too even for some core member countries.

So why has the ECB President kept his powder dry, and is the European banking crisis contained or still perilously at risk ?

Mr Draghi diplomatically hedged at a press conference, claiming that the data available failed to show definitively a confirmed deflationary trend  and that though officially measured price inflation at 0.8% was below the Bank’s mandated target 2%, there was no convincing evidence of a Japanese-style deflation in the Eurozone.

The Bank President’s words are meant to buy time, while two related processes –  one political, the other regulatory – play out.

The political process is to determine the how Eurozone governments proceed  (attempting) to manage the twin crises of growing sovereign debts and growing systemic insolvency risk in the banking sector.  The latest event in that process is the  German Constitutional Court’s ruling last week that it does not consider that the ECB has been acting within its mandate when conducting debt monetisation  – thus allying itself to the view of Jens Wiedmann the Bundesbank President – although it did not explicitly rule that the ECB broke the German Constitution, preferring to pass the parcel on to the European Court of Justice for a definitive ruling.

These legal challenges are a mere proxy war for the real political one between the “Teutonic” bloc led by  Germany and the “Club Med” periphery which currently also includes France.

Which returns us to the ECB, whose Governing Council members are composed of a clear majority from the “Club Med” faction.  Knowing he has this majority ready to vote eventually for a new round of asset purchases, Mr Draghi is playing a long game.

With ECB benchmark rates already negative in real terms, he is well aware that reducing nominal rates further does little to encourage bank lending. Even with effectively “free” credit, bank lending to businesses is down; as is inter-bank lending.  This lack of lending has multiple proximate  reasons, but the fundamental one is banks’ own continuing struggle to remain solvent since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007/08.  This is where the newest regulatory process comes in.

The ECB is soon to take on so-called “macroprudential” oversight of the Eurozone banking system – a new interventionist approach championed by the G20, IMF and Bank of International Settlements’ (BIS) to reduce risks of failure in the banking system by imposing higher core capital ratios.

Complementary to the EU Commission’s plans to establish a Banking Union (including a Special Resolution Mechanism –SRM – for “bailing in” failing banks), and the BIS’s  work to revise and tighten the Basel Rules on bank capital, the ECB is about to embark upon a massive exercise of stress testing all European banks. 5/ A previous round of such tests in 2010 was ridiculed as far too lax.  This time the bar has been set higher. It is expected  that some banks will fail the stress test, and interested parties are already speculating which, and attempting to guestimate the likely outcome in terms of new capital requirements . 6/

How rigorous these stress tests are is a critical matter for the ECB. Its’ supervisory responsibility for all Eurozone banks enters in force once the SRM measure is finalised later this year . The benchmarks applied for the tests are themselves partly derived from the work of the Basle Committee on Banking Supervision in defining banks’ permitted  leverage ratio. Mr Draghi is the chairman of the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision which oversees these Basle regulators. Interestingly, they recently relaxed the rules on the definition of banks’ leverage, following feedback from the industry that the new rules would entail banks having to raise at least $200 billion in new capital to comply.  7/

The challenge that these regulatory initiatives attempt to address is the massive build-up of leverage in the banking system as a whole. The Eurozone’s banks are the most vulnerable, but the problem is global. Hence the pivotal role of the BIS in defining a common approach.

What has to be factored in here is not simply banks’ traditional business and real estate lending, important though those are to understanding actual and potential loan losses. Far bigger in scale are the  banks’ exposures to the shadow banking sector; their off balance sheet losses; and the recent likely losses on FX futures contracts and interest rate swaps caused by the sell off in Emerging Markets.

Derivatives positions in FX and interest rate swaps are staggering and the total derivatives market is estimated at $700 trillion. Amongst large European banks, Deutsche Bank is said to have Euro 55.6 trillion of gross notional derivatives exposure on its books.  This figure is some 200%+ greater than Germany’s annual GDP !  8/ Note, these are not losses, just exposures. Nevertheless, it would take only a very small proportion of these contracts to turn sour for Deutsche Bank’s entire core capital to be wiped out.

The BIS-defined leverage ratio  aims to limit banks’ reliance on debt, using a minimum standard for how much capital they must hold as a percentage of all assets on their books. However, the BIS found that “a quarter of large global lenders would have failed to meet a June version of the  leverage limit had it been in force at the end of 2012.” 9/

There is a perfect storm developing then in the European banking sector.

First, there is the increasing likelihood that the ECB will unleash a new round of asset purchases from the banks to flood them with the liquidity they need to buy up their respective national governments’ sovereign bonds and so hold bond yields down.

Second, there is a Eurozone-wide regulatory initiative to recapitalise the banks likely, following on from the results of the ECB’s bank stress tests. Third, there is an increasing chance of a deep stock market correction happening this summer. All three, taken collectively,  could trigger a crisis of confidence in the  banking sector. An  insolvency crisis too should not be ruled out in the event of some large banks failing to recover from derivatives markets exposures in an increasingly volatile currency, interest rate and stock markets environment.

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NOTES/REFERENCES

1/ Using technical analysis and Austrian economic theory, it is being predicted that a stock market “crack up boom” is due some time near Christmas 2014, followed by a fiat currency collapse. Before that, a deep market correction is foreseen starting by the summer. see“The Globalisation Trap: full report”, Gordon T Long.com, 2014 01 15

2/ “Split ECB paralysed as deflation draws closer” A. Evans Pritchard, DailyTelegraph.co.uk,7th  February 2014

3/ “Eurozone’s Debt Crisis: is the next phase of the ECB’s “large scale asset purchases” imminent ?” November 2013, mises.org

4/ A few days after my commentary was published, the ECB’s executive board member Peter Praet let markets know that stimulus measures were on the menu via comments in a November 13th Wall Street Journal interview. “ ECB Bank Stress Tests: Catalyst Of The Final EU Crisis?”, SeekingAlpha.com, 2013 11 17

5/ “ECB Bank stess tests: catalyst of the final EU crisis ?” SeekingAlpha.com, 2013 11 17

6/  “Eurozone banks face £42bn ‘capital black hole’”, Kamal Ahmed, DailyTelegraph.co.uk, 8th February 2014

7/“Basel Regulators Ease Leverage-Ratio Rule for Banks”, Jim Brunsden , Bloomberg .com,   2014 01 13

8/ “On Death and Derivatives”, 29 January 2014, Golemxiv.co.uk

9/ op. cit., Bloomberg .com,   2014 01 13

Carney Seen Raising Rates Before Yellen, Draghi – Bloomberg

Carney Seen Raising Rates Before Yellen, Draghi – Bloomberg.

By Emma Charlton and Simon Kennedy  Feb 3, 2014 11:12 AM ET
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

Related

Investors are betting Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will lead the charge out of record-low interest rates as central banks pivot from fighting stagnation to managing expansions.

Economists at Citigroup Inc. and Nomura International Plc say the strongest growth since 2007 will prompt the U.K. to lift its benchmark from 0.5 percent as soon as this year. Money-market futures show an increase in early 2015. That’s at least three months before the contracts indicate Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellenwill raise the target for the federal funds rate. European Central Bank PresidentMario Draghi and Bank of JapanGovernor Haruhiko Kuroda are forecast to maintain or even ease monetary policy.

“Carney and BOE officials will be looking at the domestic recovery, and if that is strong enough, then they will feel comfortable increasing rates before the Fed,” said Jonathan Ashworth, an economist at Morgan Stanley in London and former U.K. Treasury official. “Tightening by the major developed central banks will be gradual, and they will be aware of what everyone else is doing.”

The BOE will lift rates in the second quarter of 2015 and the Fed will increase in 2016, Morgan Stanley predicts.

This wouldn’t be the first time Carney, 48, has broken from the pack. As governor of the Bank of Canada, he abandoned a “conditional commitment” to keep rates unchanged until July 2010, citing faster-than-expected growth and inflation. He delivered a rate increase in June of that year, putting him ahead of other Group of Seven central bankers.

First-Mover Risk

The risk of being first this time is that the divergence pushes up the U.K.’s currency and bond yields, threatening to choke off its economic upswing.

Acting before the Fed — now led by Yellen, who was sworn in today as chairman — “would require a very big stomach for having sterling rise,” former BOE policy maker Adam Posen said in a Jan. 8 interview.

While all economists surveyed by Bloomberg News predict BOE policy makers will leave their official bank rate unchanged when they meet Feb. 6, Carney may seek to quell expectations for increases when he releases new economic predictions Feb. 12.

Investors pushed up Britain’s borrowing costs as consumer spending powered the economy back from recession. The pound has already climbed to the highest level in more than 2 1/2 years against the dollar, and the extra yield investors demand to hold 10-year U.K. government bonds over similar maturity German bunds widened to 1.13 percentage points last month, the most since 2005 based on closing prices. Both may undermine growth.

Gradual Increases

“There’s no immediate need” to raise rates, Carney said on Jan. 25 at the annual meeting of theWorld Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He added that any eventual increases will be gradual.

With Britain expanding 1.9 percent in 2013, matching U.S. growth, money managers are switching their focus to when key central banks will start tightening policy.

The Fed, which has a dual mandate of price stability and full employment, said last week it probably will keep its target rate near zero “well past the time” that unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, “especially if projected inflation” remains below its longer-run goal of 2 percent.

Joblessness dropped to 6.7 percent in December from 7 percent the previous month; part of the reason for the decline is Americans who are giving up on finding work. Prices rose at a 1.1 percent annual pace in December, according to the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge.

Single Mandate

The BOE focuses on achieving price stability in the medium term by meeting its 2 percent inflation goal. Last month was the first time since November 2009 (UKRPCJYR) that price growth cooled to that level after hitting 5.2 percent in September 2011.

Weak inflation prompted the ECB to cut its benchmark to 0.25 percent in November, and Draghi said in Davos the central bank would be willing to act against deflation or unwarranted tightening in short-term money-market rates. The ECB’s Governing Council meets the same day this week as the BOE.

In Japan, nineteen of 36 economists surveyed by Bloomberg last month see the central bank expanding already unprecedented stimulus in the first half of this year as officials aim to drive Asia’s second-biggest economy out a 15-year deflationary malaise.

The yield difference between U.K. and German 10-year bonds widened one basis point to 1.06 percentage points as of 11 a.m. London time, after reaching 1.13 percentage points on Jan. 28.

‘Strong Growth’

The pound slid for a fifth day against the dollar after a purchasing-management survey showed manufacturing growth slowed last month. ING Bank NV economist James Knightley said the report, by Markit Economics, remains “consistent with very strong growth,” with domestic demand and export orders both improving. The U.K. currency fell 0.6 percent to $1.6341 as of 12:48 p.m. London time. It reached $1.6668 on Jan. 24, the highest level since April 2011.

“The market is pricing in that the BOE will raise rates first, and the Fed will follow three to six months after,” said Jamie Searle, a strategist at Citigroup in London. “The ECB, if anything, is going in the other direction. This will build on the policy-rate divergence that we’ve already seen, which will lead to an unprecedented decoupling in bond rates.”

Such a split has drawn criticism from emerging markets, some of which have been roiled in the past month after the Fed’s announcement of a reduction in its monthly bond purchases combined with signs of a slowdown in China to unnerve investors.

‘Broken Down’

“International monetary cooperation has broken down,” India central bank Governor Raghuram Rajan told Bloomberg TV India on Jan. 30. Industrial countries “can’t at this point wash their hands off and say we’ll do what we need to and you do the adjustment.”

There’s precedent for the BOE to take action ahead of the Fed. The Monetary Policy Committee raised its benchmark in November 2003 and again three more times before the U.S. central bank boosted the rate on overnight loans among banks in June 2004 for the first time in four years. That action helped push sterling up about 9 percent against the dollar.

Between 2007 and 2011, policy makers in London lagged behind their American counterparts in cutting rates and adopting emergency policy measures in response to the financial crisis.

“Traditionally, Fed and BOE policy are quite closely synchronized, but if current trends are maintained, then there will be more than enough data and evidence to justify a BOE increase,” said Stuart Green, an economist at Banco Santander SA in London.

Housing Boom

U.K. mortgage approvals rose in December to the highest level in almost six years as a revival in the housing market bolstered the economic rebound. Consumer confidence has improved, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne hailed signs of a manufacturing pickup in a speech last month.

“The BOE should welcome the opportunity to have a small normalization from an emergency policy setting which isn’t really justified anymore,” Green said.

Carney’s credibility is under pressure after official data show the U.K. jobless rate fell to 7.1 percent in the three months through November from 8.4 percent in the quarter through November 2011. That’s on the verge of the 7 percent he and colleagues identified last August as a threshold that would trigger a discussion about higher interest rates — something they initially didn’t anticipate would happen until 2016.

Forward Guidance

The BOE governor has signaled he will revise forward guidance next week, when economists say the central bank also will increase its growth forecasts. Among Carney’s options: setting a timeframe for low rates, changing the unemployment threshold, following the Fed in releasing policy makers’ rate forecasts or introducing a broader range of variables to inform decisions.

Simon Wells, a former Bank of England economist, isn’t convinced the BOE will act before the Fed. Unlike the U.S., the U.K.’s output still is below its pre-crisis peak, while workers face cuts in inflation-adjusted pay and are professing sensitivity to the cost of living. An election in May 2015 and the stronger pound also pose obstacles

“There is more willingness to give growth a chance,” said Wells, currently chief U.K. economist at HSBC Holdings Plc., who doesn’t expect the central bank to raise rates before the third quarter of next year.

Price Pressures

Carney does have more flexibility now that inflation is back to the 2 percent target. The risk is if unemployment keeps declining, price pressures may re-emerge, especially if joblessness is dropping because of sluggish productivity. Output per hour slid in the third quarter and may leave the economy less inflation-proof.

“We do not believe the MPC can ignore the data and delay,” said Philip Rush, an economist at Nomura in London, who forecasts a rate increase in August. “Surging job creation is lowering unemployment without a commensurate supply-side improvement, so spare capacity is being rapidly used up. This is what matters to the BOE.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Emma Charlton in London at echarlton1@bloomberg.net; Simon Kennedy in London at skennedy4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net

Greece begins EU presidency by saying austerity policies are intolerable | World news | The Guardian

Greece begins EU presidency by saying austerity policies are intolerable | World news | The Guardian.

Greek EU Presidency

The start of Greece’s six-month European Union presidency reinforced the isolation of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/EPA

Greece kicked off six months in charge of the European Union on Wednesday declaring that the imposition of austerity, spending cuts and fiscal policy by Berlin and Brussels could no longer be tolerated.

Coinciding with a growing backlash across the EU against the austerity policies mainly scripted in Berlin, the start of Greece’s EU presidency reinforced the isolation of German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has dominated the policy response to the EU crisis for the past four years.

Following four years at the sharpest end of Europe‘s debt and currency crisis and €250bn in bailout funds, the Greek government declared enough was enough.

“Greece does not want to have any more fiscal conditionality,” the finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said on Wednesday. “It is out of the question because it is already too tough.”

The cry of exhaustion from a country that went broke, sank into years of slump and mass unemployment, slashed labour costs, and saw incomes collapse by more than a third is finding an echo not only across southern Europe but in the prosperous north, too, as leaders fear for their career prospects.

They have had enough of austerity, leaving Merkel, the main architect of spending cuts as the cure to Europe’s malaise, isolated as seldom before in what is becoming less of a financial crisis and more of a political battle for Europe’s future direction.

“The acute phase of the financial crisis is now over,” the US financier, George Soros, said last week. “Future crises will be political in origin.” He foresaw a bleak period of Japanese-style stagnation worsened by constant bickering between EU national leaders.

“What was meant to be a voluntary association of equal states has now been transformed by the euro crisis into a relationship between creditor and debtor countries that is neither voluntary nor equal. Indeed, the euro could destroy the EU altogether.”

The political frictions are visible, with leaders using vivid language to try to sway one another and win the argument. Merkel recently likened the situation to that of 1914, complaining of complacency and speaking of sleepwalking European leaders who led the continent into the first world war. She also evoked parallels with growing up under communism in East Germany, a rare public reference to her childhood experiences.

Describing the mood among most EU national leaders, a senior policymaker in Brussels said: “The worst of the crisis is over. So the pressure to take tough measures is off. We’ve had enough of discipline, enough of sanctions, we’re sufficiently unpopular already. The worst is over, so let’s stop now.”

Merkel, whose steering of the euro crisis propelled her to soaring popularity at home and a third term, has become increasingly resented among elites in other EU capitals, underlining the differences between Germany and the rest.

“The problem in Europe is that there is a government headed by one person,” a west European ambassador said in reference to Merkel. “That’s the issue and how to deal with it. All decisions are taken by one leader. This is what is happening now.”

If that has been a big part of the narrative for the past few years, however, the story went into reverse just before Christmas in the first week of Merkel’s new term. She went to a Brussels EU summit determined to push a new policy of compelling structural reforms on the economies of the eurozone. But she found herself supported by not one single other national leader, opposed not only by her foes, but also her friends such as the Dutch, Austrians and Finns.

“It was really a strange discussion,” said the policymaker, “difficult from the start, full of prejudice, ideology and fear.” Merkel was said to be disappointed. That much is clear from her private remarks to fellow leaders at the summit. A transcript of the exchange, obtained by Le Monde, highlighted her frustration.

She said: “Sooner or later the currency will explode without the necessary cohesion. If everyone behaves as they could under communism, then we are lost.”

Merkel’s plan was to empower the European commission in Brussels to police structural reforms in eurozone countries and to sweeten the pain of the changes by partially subsidising them. She denied that she was dictating anything, but said it was better to spend €3bn on the changes now than €10bn later.

She was supported by three European presidents, José Manuel Barroso of the commission, Herman Van Rompuy chairing the summit and Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank. None of the trio have to face the voter. All the other elected leaders were against and the plan was shelved.

One prime minister warned that the years of austerity had given rise to increasing populism. In Athens on Wednesday, the deputy Greek prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos, spoke of the growing appeal of neo-Nazis, racists and xenophobes. “In most of the EU we see a new wave of euro-scepticism.”

Soros went so far as to blame the German chancellor for this. “Angela Merkel’s policies are giving rise to extremist movements in the rest of Europe.”

The strength of the new anti-European movements on the far right and the hard left will be tested in the elections for the European parliament in May when they are expected to make gains at the expense of the centre and possibly win the poll outright in countries such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and Greece.

Fear of the impact of more extreme politics helps to explain the current aversion in most of Europe to the crisis solutions scripted in Berlin.

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