Insolvency must be purged from Europe’s system and it must be done openly and honestly.
When I had the honor of leading the True Finn Party to electoral victory in April, we made a solemn promise to oppose the so-called bailouts of euro-zone member states. These bailouts are patently bad for Europe, bad for Finland and bad for the countries that have been forced to accept them. Europe is suffering from the economic gangrene of insolvency—both public and private. And unless we amputate that which cannot be saved, we risk poisoning the whole body.
The official wisdom is that Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been hit by a liquidity crisis, so they needed a momentary infusion of capital, after which everything would return to normal. But this official version is a lie, one that takes the ordinary people of Europe for idiots. They deserve better from politics and their leaders.
To understand the real nature and purpose of the bailouts, we first have to understand who really benefits from them. Let’s follow the money.
At the risk of being accused of populism, we’ll begin with the obvious: It is not the little guy that benefits. He is being milked and lied to in order to keep the insolvent system running. He is paid less and taxed more to provide the money needed to keep this Ponzi scheme going. Meanwhile, a kind of deadly symbiosis has developed between politicians and banks: Our political leaders borrow ever more money to pay off the banks, which return the favor by lending ever-more money back to our governments, keeping the scheme afloat.
In a true market economy, bad choices get penalized. Not here. When the inevitable failure of overindebted euro-zone countries came to light, a secret pact was made.
Instead of accepting losses on unsound investments—which would have led to the probable collapse and national bailout of some banks—it was decided to transfer the losses to taxpayers via loans, guarantees and opaque constructs such as the European Financial Stability Fund, Ireland’s NAMA and a lineup of special-purpose vehicles that make Enron look simple. Some politicians understood this; others just panicked and did as they were told.
The money did not go to help indebted economies. It flowed through the European Central Bank and recipient states to the coffers of big banks and investment funds.
Further contrary to the official wisdom, the recipient states did not want such “help,” not this way. The natural option for them was to admit insolvency and let failed private lenders, wherever they were based, eat their losses.
That was not to be. As former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan recently revealed, Ireland was forced to take the money. The same happened to Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates, although he may be less forthcoming than Mr. Lenihan about admitting it.
Why did the Brussels-Frankfurt extortion racket force these countries to accept the money along with “recovery” plans that would inevitably fail? Because they needed to please the tax-guzzling banks, which might otherwise refuse to turn up at the next Spanish, Belgian, Italian, or even French bond-auction.
Unfortunately for this financial and political cartel, their plan isn’t working. Already under this scheme, Greece, Ireland and Portugal are ruined. They will never be able to save and grow fast enough to pay back the debts with which Brussels has saddled them in the name of saving them.
And so, unpurged, the gangrene spreads. The Spanish property sector is much bigger and more uncharted than that of Ireland. It is not just the cajas that are in trouble. There are major Spanish banks where what lies beneath the surface of the balance sheet may be a zombie, just as happened in Ireland for a while. The clock is ticking, and the problem is not going away.
Setting up the European Stability Mechanism is no solution. It would institutionalize the system of wealth transfers from private citizens to compromised politicians and otherwise failed bankers, creating a huge moral hazard and destroying what remains of Europe’s competitive banking landscape.
Some defend the ESM, saying its use would always require unanimity. But the current mess with Portugal shows that the elite in Brussels will seek to enforce unanimity through pressure when it cannot be obtained by persuasion. Abolishing unanimity is only a matter of time. After that we have a full-fledged fiscal transfer union that is obviously in hock to Brussels’ anti-growth corporatism.
Fortunately, it is not too late to stop the rot. For the banks, we need honest, serious stress tests. Stop the current politically inspired farce. Instead, have parallel assessments done by regulators and independent groups including stakeholders and academics. Trust, but verify.
Insolvent banks and financial institutions must be shut down, purging insolvency from the system. We must restore the market principle of freedom to fail.
If some banks are recapitalized with taxpayer money, taxpayers should get ownership stakes in return, and the entire board should be kicked out. But before any such taxpayer participation can be contemplated, it is essential to first apply big haircuts to bondholders.
For sovereign debt, the freedom to fail is again key. Significant restructuring is needed for genuine recovery. Yes, markets will punish defaulting states, but they are also quick to forgive. Current plans are destroying the real economies of Europe through elevated taxes and transfers of wealth from ordinary families to the coffers of insolvent states and banks. A restructuring that left a country’s debt burden at a manageable level and encouraged a return to growth-oriented policies could lead to a swift return to international debt markets.
This is not just about economics. People feel betrayed. In Ireland, the incoming parties to the new government promised to hold senior bondholders responsible, but under pressure, they succumbed, leaving their voters with a sense of democratic disenfranchisement. The elites in Brussels have said that Finland must honor its commitments to its European partners, but Brussels is silent on whether national politicians should honor their commitments to their own voters. In a democracy, where we govern under the consent of the people, power is on loan. We do what we promise, even if it costs a dinner in Brussels, a “negative” media profile, or a seat in the cabinet.
When in Europe’s long night of 1939-45, war came to Finland with the winter blizzards, my mother was one of eight siblings being raised on a small farm in central Finland where my grandparents eked out a frugal living. My two young uncles rushed to the front and were both wounded in action during Finland’s chapter of Europe’s most terrible bloodshed. I was raised to know that genocidal war must never again be visited on our continent and I came to understand the values and principles that originally motivated the establishment of what became the European Union.
This Europe, this vision, was one that offered the people of Finland and all of Europe the gift of peace founded on democracy, freedom, justice and subsidiarity. This is a Europe worth having, so it is with great distress that I see this project being put in jeopardy by a political elite who would sacrifice the interests of Europe’s ordinary people in order to protect certain corporate interests.
Europe may still recover from this potentially terminal disease and decline. Insolvency must be purged from the system and it must be done openly and honestly. That path is not easy, but it is always the right path—for Finland, and for Europe.
Mr. Soini is the chairman of the True Finns Party in Finland.