David McWilliams, economist, writer and journalist, has warned that the coming French election may lead to the euro breaking up and that Ireland should have a ‘plan B’ and ‘print punts’ in order to be ready for the collapse of the “single currency.”

16-07-2015

David McWilliams at Ireland’s Banking Inquiry

McWilliams writes

This time last year, only a few of us were suggesting that Brexit was likely. The mainstream view was that it couldn’t possibly happen. But it did. And so too did Trump. When this column argued in June that “we should prepare for President Trump”, one or two local talk shows chuckled and sneered at the mere suggestion that such a creature could inhabit the White House. But he is there.

In December, the Italian electorate revolted against its government – again the view of ‘sensible’ people was that bolshie Italians would see reason. But they didn’t.

…

The next stop on this political whirlwind will be the Netherlands next month; and the big one, of course, is France. In less than 70 days, France goes to the polls and only an idiot would rule out Marine Le Pen’s chances.

It was the great French romantic poet and novelist Victor Hugo who declared:

“You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”

Do you get the feeling that we are living through epochal change, where one great idea is about to be replaced by another? Are we experiencing the irresistible force of an idea whose time has come?

…

The first thing to happen in the case of a Le Pen victory is that money will flood out of all non-German members of the euro. Italy will face a massive bond crisis, presaging default fears. Greece will be gone. Spain and Portugal will experience similar bond crises, and so too will Ireland.

The reason for this is that a bond is a 10- or 20-year IOU. For Ireland, the bond states that the Irish State will pay the investor back a certain amount in euro. But if the euro itself is breaking up from the centre, why would anyone bet on an English-speaking periphery country where ties to the UK and the US – two countries where the administrations are implacably opposed to the EU – are extremely strong?

The ECB will try to keep the entire enterprise together by buying all the bonds that scared investors are dumping. But liquidity in the non-German eurozone will dry up. There will be a run, not on the banks, but on the remaining countries of the euro. This flight of capital will be most violent in southern Europe, but it will be dramatic here too. In this case, there are two options.

The first is a lurch towards a deeper political union in the remaining euro countries around Germany. This will be done in an effort to staunch the financial haemorrhaging by stating clearly that Germany will backstop a smaller European Union of countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria, without France.

Is Anglo/American Atlantic Ireland a likely candidate for that Teutonic League? Not really. And anyway, why would Germany bother with this when, after all, it is really interested in a single market of 350 million to sell its goods. German voters didn’t abandon the Deutsche Mark for the promise of some shrunken political union. Meanwhile, the Latin countries will protest their faith in the euro, but no one will believe them or at least no one will risk money and bet on them remaining within the euro.

The second option is that central banks get busy printing new currencies, just in case. With France already out of the euro and Britain out of the EU, the question would be, who’s next? What do we do in this case? Well, we’d certainly need to have new Punts printed.

You may think this scenario fanciful. I wish it was and ultimately it will be if Ms Le Pen doesn’t win.

But look at the odds. Today, Paddy Power is offering 9/4 on Ms Le Pen. Neither Brexit nor Donald Trump had such short odds this far out from polling day.

Granted, it might not happen, but it could easily. Ireland’s monetary future and our financial security is now down to the whims of angry French voters. Surely we should be prepared or have a plan, don’t you think?