With Europe's Economy Slowing, Can Eurocrats Afford to Play Hardball on Brexit?
A study last year by Germany’s Halle Institute estimated a no-deal Brexit would cost 12,000 jobs in the UK, and 422,000 jobs in the other 27 EU members, of which 100,000 are in Germany and 50,000 in France. Recently, Ireland’s central bank forecast a loss of up to 100,000 jobs in the medium term in Ireland alone, on a no-deal. Clearly, the EU’s negotiators risk losing the wholehearted support of its two largest post-Brexit paymasters and others. But for Brussels, giving in on Brexit encourages rebellion from disaffected populations in other member states. Rather like the Soviets ruling Eastern Europe in the late eighties, the Brussels establishment finds itself struggling to keep its non-democratic political model intact.
It is increasingly likely Brussels will find events are spinning out of its control. For the UK, this introduces collateral damage, necessitating even more urgent separation from the EU. In a paper published at end-June, Bob Lyddon points out that a Eurozone financial crisis (which is becoming increasingly likely, as argued below) could cause the UK’s contingent liability as an EU member to be as much as €441bn. “This derives from the near-criminal irresponsibility by the UK’s negotiators”.
Whatever the numbers, there can be no doubt that this is an extremely serious issue. Furthermore, in the event of a financial and systemic crisis in the Eurozone, the UK will face its own crisis, if only because of cross-liabilities through the two banking systems. And the cyclical economic downturn that always follows the failure of a period of credit expansion is coming up on the inside rail very rapidly.
The EU economy is left badly unbalanced, with Germany dominating production and exports. Other populous member states, notably in the Club Med and France, are in a financial mess. They have relied on Germany’s production to provide for their unproductive profligacy. Her production output is now contracting.
Germany has been hit by three adverse developments at the same time. There is President Trump’s tariff war against China, which has undermined Germany’s largest growing markets at the eastern end of the Silk Road, and the threat he will deploy similar tactics against Germany. There is EU environmental legislation, which is making Germany’s motor production obsolete and forcing manufacturers to put a time-limit on existing production while investing enormous sums in electric technology. The damage this has done extends down the whole production chain, undermining the Mittelstand.
Then there is the crisis in Germany’s major banks, most publicly seen in Deutsche Bank because of longtail liabilities from its investment banking division. But all German banks, as well as those throughout the EU, face a lethal combination of margin compression from negative interest rates and a legacy of an expensive branch network when customers are migrating to online banking. The slump in German production now provides an additional threat to their loan books.
In the background, there is the turn in the global credit cycle from its expansionary phase into a periodic contraction, usually resulting in a credit crisis. To understand the transition from credit expansion to a tendency for it to contract is to recognise that the expansion of credit as a means of stimulating an economy depends on tricking economic actors into believing prospects are improving. When the evidence mounts that they are not, monetary stimulation fails, and credit begins to contract. Despite the ECB maintaining negative interest rates, despite the ability of highly-rated companies to raise finance at zero or even negative rates, and despite the ECB’s offer to pay companies to borrow (which is what deeper negative rates amount to) economic actors are now aware that it is all deception.
This is why Germany now has all the appearances of being in the early stages of a deepening economic slump, and there is nothing monetary policy can do about it. Brexit will simply add to these problems, not just for manufacturers, but for their bankers as well, as the Halle Institute report implies.
It is increasingly difficult to see how with escalating budget deficits in member governments Brussels can afford to continue with its head-in-the-sand approach to trade negotiations with Britain. The eurocrats naturally retreat into more protectionism when they see the system threatened. But asking Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark for more money when their tax revenues are slumping is unlikely to cut much ice.