James Moore: The PIIGS could derail plans to solve eurozone crisis

James Moore
Sunday 30 October 2011 23:48

Regardless of the eventual outcome of Europe's latest crisis summit (don't bet against there being another one before too long) there will be pain felt in Europe's "fringe" economies.

Up until now it has been convenient to put these economies (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland) into one basket. The unflattering acronym of the PIIGS has largely been dropped, but only in favour of "Club Med".

However, while these countries are united in the fact that they have too much debt without the monetary policy tools to help them deal with it (thanks to their use of the Euro) they also have significant differences.

Ireland has taken a fearful kicking, but there are tentative signs that it may have turned the corner (which is perhaps why people now talk of Europe's Club Med).

Italy's leader Silvio Berlusconi might be taking flak for being full of promises rather than action, but when push comes to shove he too might have good reason for his incorrigible optimism.

Unemployment in Italy stands at only 8 per cent. That's painful, but bearable and it could probably rise a bit. Italy might have to deal with a long spell of low, or even no, growth. So what's new about that?

Things look darker when it comes to Portugal, Greece, and Spain. Their unemployment rates are respectively 12, 16 and 21 per cent. It is true that undeclared employment in the grey and black economies means those figures are probably overstated. It is also true that in places where the extended family, with the support it provides, is still a reality, a higher unemployment rate can be sustained than, say, in a place like Britain.

But however much money is pumped into the European Stability Fund, whatever form it takes, those rates are going to rise, quite likely to unsustainable levels. Even with an agreed rescue deal, the PGS could yet derail the enterprise.

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