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Euro Hits Crisis Stage

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Storm clouds have been brewing over Europe and not even the biggest and most prudent economies are exempt from their threat.  Europe's decade-old currency, the euro, is in crisis with some eurozone members mired in massive debt and others having to provide bailout-loan guarantees to prevent default and shore up the common currency.

Europe's economic giant, Germany, has put up a large share of those guarantees.  Many Germans, however, are not happy about having to bail out what they consider Europe's big spenders, such as Greece.  Some are even questioning whether the euro can survive in the long-term.

Germany has introduced the country's most ambitious austerity plan since World War II, to bring its public debt within European Union limits and hopefully encourage others to follow suit, thereby stabilizing the euro.

Artur Fischer
Artur Fischer

The austerity plan has calmed markets down, says Artur Fischer, head of the Berlin Stock Exchange.

"The normal retail investor, he understands and realizes that serious measures have been taken," says Fischer.  "The professional investors, they understand that what happened right now is significant and going in the right direction."

The markets had been jittery for months about the stability of the euro.  The crisis was triggered by the Greek government's inability to pay back loans.  Fears spread about a possible default that could drag the entire eurozone with it.  Germany agreed to a bailout package of loan guarantees, but in return, Greece had to implement strict austerity measures. Those have not been popular on the streets.  The bailout was not popular in Germany either, where many felt they were being called on to help those who had simply spent beyond their means.

Fischer says that Germans need to understand why the bailout is important for the German economy.

"Let's just say we let Greece go into bankruptcy - well, their loan is in euros so going into bankruptcy the ones who are lending them the money they would have to take a cut [loss]," says Fischer.  "Who lent that money?  Well to some extent, quite a lot of German banks.  So, if Greece would have gone into default, as a consequence a number of banks in Europe, and in Germany especially, would have another big problem."

Since then Europe's big economic players and the International Monetary Fund have hammered out an additional loan guarantee plan worth around a trillion dollars to shore up other fragile European economies.

Michael Stuermer
Michael Stuermer

It has Michael Stuermer worried.  He is a historian and chief political correspondent for the influential German newspaper, Die Welt. He has doubts about the long-term viability of the euro and sees a break-up as quite possible.

"Some of the more solid partners in the euro system led by Germany would turn around and say, 'Look we've had enough of that'.  In order to save you, we first have to save ourselves.  We suspend our membership and we go back or we go forward to a kind of north European franc or guilder or something which sounds good and solid.  And, of course the southern part of the euro would fall apart," says Stuermer.

Many analysts have pointed to structural flaws in the euro, noting that countries in the eurozone may share the currency, but have little say over individual member budgets and spending.

Economic analyst Markus Kerber of Berlin's Technische University says the eurozone must be restructured.

"In the current form, the eurozone can not survive," says Kerber.  "We have to reshape it.  In the long run, in my opinion, unless there is a miracle, Greece cannot belong to the European Monetary Union because we cannot provide for the financial means to keep that country stable."

Kerber believes the German bailout plan is unconstitutional and violates the EU treaty, and he's bringing suit against the German government over it.

Not everyone sees such cracks within the euro and the European Union.  Fischer has no doubt, the euro will survive.

"What we experience now was predicted when the eurozone and the euro were put together because we all understood that we have economies with different kinds of speeds, different kind of abilities.  Now, today we're in a world where a few countries are very strong and others are weak.  So, we reach out and we try to help them.  There will be a point in time where that might the other way around," says Fischer.

So while the euro is under severe strain - and some see its demise - others believe the common currency along with Europe's political bonds have benefited too many to be discarded.

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