Leading article: Shooting the messenger

Manuel Barroso has become the latest European politician to take a swipe at the credit rating agencies. The president of the European Commission this week suggested that the timing of Moody's latest downgrade of Portuguese debt was "questionable" and implied some sort of anti-European conspiracy from the three large US agencies.

Mr Barroso is right to argue that too much confidence is placed on the views of credit ratings agencies, especially since they proved to be so incompetent during the credit boom when they gave AAA ratings to a host of debt securities that turned out to be worthless. The reliance of large investors – from banks to pension funds – on the verdict of these agencies is pernicious.

But the uncomfortable reality for European leaders is that though the agencies got it desperately wrong in the boom, they are getting it broadly right on the quality of the debt of governments from the eurozone periphery. The credit ratings agencies might be a messenger that deserves to be shot, but the fact remains that for European leaders to engage in this activity now will not help them to solve the eurozone crisis.

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