Merkel leads charge for tax on financial markets
Germany called on Thursday for a crack-down on financial markets, France took a hard line on its huge overspending and Greece faced more street protests as the eurozone struggled with crisis and division.
With stocks already reeling from a surprise and unilateral move by Germany to curb speculative trading, Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed the case for a tax on financial markets to help tame excesses blamed for the global economic slump.
“We have now stated that we will campaign for a tax on the financial markets and we will campaign for that at our (G20) summit in Canada,” she told a conference on financial regulation.
As for the under pressure euro, put at risk by the eurozone debt crisis, Merkel said “you need stricter rules than other governments that just decide for their own currency.”
European stocks were showing losses of close to three percent in mid-afternoon trade as new US jobless claims data unexpectedly rose for the first time in five weeks, adding to the negative market sentiment.
Merkel triggered a fresh sell-off on Wednesday when Berlin banned so-called naked short selling — the sale of bonds or shares by market players who neither hold the security nor have borrowed it to make their trade.
If the ban was meant to halt the slide, it failed, instead rocking the global markets and pushing the euro down to fresh four-year lows as investors feared that Europe’s spreading debt crisis could force the region’s and even the world economy back into deep recession.
“The German short ban has emphasised that Europe is not unified and this is at a juncture when it really, really needs to be,” said Credit Agricole CIB analyst David Keeble.
Altium Securities analyst Ian Williams said “Merkel, if anything, intensified her rhetoric even as her eurozone partners remained unimpressed with Germany’s unilateral actions.
“The lack of co-ordination across the supposed partners within the single currency zone is especially damaging to investor confidence,” Williams said.
French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde told RTL radio the German decision “should have been taken in concert” with other European nations and was in itself “open to debate,” Lagarde said.
The crisis in Europe is being driven by debt and public deficit levels which have soared way above EU rules as governments increased spending to get their economies through the worst recession in decades.
Now the bill is coming home to roost, with markets demanding ever higher rates of interest to provide money to such governments. That in turn makes the state finances worse and eventually led Greece to call in the EU and IMF to organise a 110-billion-euro bailout earlier this month.
On Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy also took up the fiscal cudgels, saying France’s constitution should be altered to compel new governments to sign up to a timetable to balance their budgets. And he said he wanted to freeze public spending for three years.
“The restoration of public finances should not just be an undertaking of the government, but of the nation. It should be a long-term engagement and for that the governance of our public finances must change,” Sarkozy said. Germany already has such a curb on overspending.
Meanwhile, public reaction continued to build after Greece, joined by other weaker eurozone states such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, slashed spending on pensions and benefits in order to balance the books.
Greek authorities deployed hundreds of extra police in Athens for the fourth general strike in four months which caused widespread disruption.
More than 1,700 extra police were ordered into central Athens alone as authorities seek to avoid a repeat of disturbances that saw three bank employees killed when their branch was hit with a petrol bomb on May 5.
Spain also braced for street protests by public service workers against a tough government austerity plan aimed at reining in the public deficit amid fears of a Greek-style debt crisis.
The country’s main unions has called for demonstrations in front of government buildings throughout the country at the same time as the government is set to approve the belt-tightening plan later Thursday.