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Column: If Ireland votes no, how would we finance the country? Here's how

The debate about what would happen if Ireland votes no is based on worst case scenarios. We should focus on real alternatives, write Michael Taft and Tom McDonnell.

Michael Taft and Tom McDonnell

IF IRELAND VOTES no in the upcoming referendum on the fiscal compact treaty, one of the biggest issues is how the country can still be funded.

It’s a complex debate, but one of the more compelling sources of institutional funding is the European Financial Stability Facility (the EFSF).

The EFSF is one of four external sources of funding for the current Irish bailout (along with the IMF, the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, and bi-lateral loan agreements with the UK, Sweden and Denmark). The EFSF remains a source of funding for all Eurozone countries until the middle of next year.

The EFSF is separate from the ESM and the Fiscal Treaty. Ireland, and all countries who are members of the EFSF, has access to this fund as of right, depending on the following conditions:

• They cannot access funding at reasonable rates on the international markets
• They have negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the EU and the IMF

A further stipulation is unanimous consent from the Finance Ministers of the Eurozone (Eurogroup), which would follow on from an agreement with the EU/IMF. Applications for this funding can be made up to the end of June 2013. After that the EFSF will only administer funding that has already been agreed.

According to the recent Eurogroup statement (the Finance Ministers of Eurozone countries):

For a transitional period until mid-2013, it (the EFSF) may engage in new programmes in order to ensure a full fresh lending capacity of EUR 500 billion (for the ESM).

This is confirmed by the EFSF itself which states:

. . . following the Eurogroup meeting held on 30 March, it was decided that the EFSF would remain active until July 2013 . . . For a transitional period until 2013, EFSF may engage in new programmes in order to ensure a full fresh lending capacity of €500 billion . . . after June 2013, EFSF [will] not enter into any new programmes.

Therefore, were Ireland to apply for a second bail-out prior to July 1st 2013, it would be granted if such an application were accompanied by a Memorandum of Understanding negotiated between Ireland, the EU and the IMF – similar to the first bail-out. This funding is not contingent upon the ratification of the Fiscal Treaty.

Ireland’s second bailout?

In all probability, funding for Ireland’s second bailout – whether it approves the Fiscal Treaty or not – will be routed through the EFSF. The EFSF (the temporary bailout fund in place up to July 2013) and the ESM (permanent bailout mechanism) are different companies. The EFSF has €440 billion,  of which €192 billion is already committed to Ireland, Portugal and Greece.

The remaining lending capacity of the EFSF for programmes initiated before July 2013 is therefore €248 billion. The EFSF will remain in place to manage its existing programmes and any other new programmes approved prior to July 2013, until such time as all these programmes are all wound down.

The ESM itself has €500 billion and is scheduled to enter force on 1 July 2012. As stated above, the intention would be to ensure the ESM retains its full lending capacity of €500 billion. This no doubt refers to the prospect of larger countries, in particular Spain, needing a bailout. The ESM would require full capacity to accommodate new countries’ need for a bail-out.

Ireland’s continuing access to institutional funding beyond the current bailout programme has been guaranteed not once, but twice, by the heads of States and Government; first, on 12 July of last year when the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism was agreed, and most recently on 30 January of this year – after the Fiscal Treaty was signed:

We welcome the latest positive reviews of the Irish and Portuguese programmes which concluded that quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks have been met. We will continue to provide support to countries under a programme until they have regained market access, provided they successfully implement their programmes.

This is an important and helpful guarantee. There is no condition set on continued support until we return to the markets – except that we implement agreed programmes. If continued support were contingent upon acceptance of the Treaty, we should have expected it to be highlighted in this statement.

‘Ireland is expected to return to the markets in late 2013… however the IMF is cautious’

This helps explain another issue we highlighted earlier. The drafters of the European Stability Mechanism Treaty inserted clauses that provide manoeuvrability in negotiations with any Eurozone country in need of financing, regardless of the Fiscal Treaty. In particular, they inserted references to ‘new programmes under the European Stability Mechanism’, a clause which would have been unnecessary if all financing under the ESM were strictly conditional on a yes vote.

They have seemingly factored in a situation whereby a second bail-out for Ireland (and potentially Portugal and Greece) would constitute ‘rolled-over’ financing, rather than ‘new’ financing. This buttresses the guarantee given by the heads of States and Governments – namely that Ireland will continue to be supported until we return to the markets.

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This is an important debate as there is a high probability that Ireland will require a second bail-out. We are expected to return to the markets in late 2013 and fully by 2014. However, the IMF is cautious:

Debt sustainability remains fragile, especially with respect to medium-term growth prospects . . . In this context, the prospects for regaining the substantial access to market funding that is assumed in 2013 remain uncertain.

Were a second bail-out required, we estimate that it could be as large as €45 billion and possibly more for the years 2014 and 2015, taking into account the Exchequer balance and bond redemptions. This does not include bank payments. While this is less than the current bail-out provision it is clear that Ireland, without access to either market or institutional funding, would not be able to cope with this fiscally. We would be heading into a default – quite possibly on both sovereign and banking debt. This would have negative spillover effects for other Eurozone countries.

The ‘appalling scenario’ of a No vote

We reiterate the point from earlier there is no reason to resort to counter-posing ‘appalling scenarios’. Some argue that Ireland will be frozen out of both market and institutional funding if we vote No. Clearly, this would be an appalling scenario. Others argue that it would never come to this because of the impact on the Eurozone (defaults, contagion) – another appalling scenario.

This is not a satisfactory way to debate this issue. This will trap us in a ‘race-to-disaster’ debate which will be particularly uninformative. We have attempted to outline concrete alternative funding scenarios for Ireland. Whether these would become available is a subject for legitimate debate. However, those who claim that Ireland would be denied access to EFSF funding – or any other funding sources – should provide concrete evidence to this effect. Evidence one way or the other would be a valuable contribution.

The debate over the Fiscal Treaty should be just that – a debate about the provisions of the Treaty. In this respect, it is helpful to note wider European developments. Spain has, unsurprisingly, officially re-entered recession putting at risk their deficit targets; the prospect of a Socialist Party victory in the French second-round Presidential vote raises the prospect of some renegotiation of the Fiscal Treaty; the fall of the Dutch government over failure to agree budget cuts highlights the problems posed by the Fiscal Compact in a major core country.

As Ireland prepares for the referendum vote, the ground under the Fiscal Treaty may already be shifting. Resort to ‘appalling scenarios’ will only confuse the issue when the debate should be focused on whether the provisions of the Fiscal Treaty are good, or even sustainable, for Ireland and the Eurozone.

Michael Taft is Research Officer with Unite the Union and blogs at Notes on the Front. Tom McDonnell is a policy analyst at TASC. This article originally appeared on Progressive-Economy.ie

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Michael Taft and Tom McDonnell

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