Mr. Feldstein pointed out that the past decade has been, until recently, a lucky time in Europe. European country economies weren’t buffeted by severe economic problems, or big unemployment problems, allowing theThat was written in January 2009 when Europe seem poised to implode. Now that ECB has weathered that storm Feldstein still questions the Euro's survivability:
European Central Bankto focus on price stability. But now, economic conditions are deteriorating rapidly, and some countries are being much harder hit than others...“In my judgment, the next few years will be an important testing time for the EMU and Europe,” Mr. Feldstein said - one in which the possibility of one or more countries choosing to withdraw from the EMU cannot be ruled out.
Feldstein acknowledges there would be technical and political hurdles to overcome for a country to abandon the Euro. Barry Eichengreen argues these hurdles are probably large enough to prevent a country from leaving the currency union. Obviously, Feldstein is less confident on this point than Eichengreen. Interestingly, Desmond Lachman, who foresaw many of the emerging market crisis of the 1990s, sees a "ticking time bomb" for Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland from the "straightjacket of the Euro-zone membership." He too does not see the hurldes to a breakup of the Eurozone as unsurpassable. As I noted in a previous post, Argentina in the 2001-2002 period provides a good example of a country for which the technical and political hurdles--including a financial crisis, the largest-ever sovereign default, and political chaos--were not enough to prevent it from leaving the dollar zone. Never say never.
The economic recovery that the euro zone anticipates in 2010 could bring with it new tensions. Indeed, in the extreme, some countries could find themselves considering whether to leave the single currency altogether.
Although the euro simplifies trade, it creates significant problems for monetary policy. Even before it was born, some economists (such as myself) asked whether a single currency would be desirable for such a heterogeneous group of countries. A single currency means a single monetary policy and a single interest rate, even if economic conditions – particularly cyclical conditions – differ substantially among the member countries of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
The European Central Bank is now pursuing a very easy monetary policy. But, as the overall economy of the euro zone improves, the ECB will start to reduce liquidity and raise the short-term interest rate, which will be more appropriate for some countries than for others. Those countries whose economies remain relatively weak oppose tighter monetary policy.