To: Angela Merkel <email@example.com> From: Wolfgang Schäuble <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Plan B for the euro zone
Funny how life goes, isn’t it? Our neighbours agreed to join us in the great project of Europe because they wanted to keep German economic power in check. And look what has happened: We’re calling all the shots again. You are the most powerful politician on the continent. The financial markets hang on your every word. Mine too.
(Incidentally, I loved the way you made Nicolas wait for you to show up at that news conference in Strasbourg—and with all the media present, too. He was so angry! Show that croissant-eating dummkopf who’s boss.)
But I hardly need tell you, Chancellor, that we are in a corner now. Your strategy of letting the crisis drag out, to soften up those slobs in southern Europe for some proper fiscal discipline, was very clever. But the mood on the street is angry. Every time we demand something reasonable—like, say, insisting that the Greeks actually pay their taxes—the people riot and start making crazy talk about bringing back the drachma.
I know you are under great pressure to save the euro. “Just have Germany pay the bills,” people say. Or worse, they say the European Central Bank should be allowed to just print the euros that the Italians and the Spanish need! I nearly choked on my knackwurst when I heard that one. If these idioten get their way, next thing you know it will take a wheelbarrow full of ¤5 notes to pay for a pint of Krombacher.
You said that it will take years to resolve this debt crisis. It will also take some creative thinking. So I called together some of my officials, and one of them asked: Think of the euro zone like it’s an airline. We thought, oh no, there goes Helmut again. Then he explained. Airlines go in and out of insolvency all the time—just like Greece. But when they are overwhelmed with debt, they just hand the keys to the creditors, wipe the slate clean and carry on. Then, a few years later, they do it again!
It’s not so easy to do a debt-for-equity exchange on a country. But the way I see it, our euro zone partners have many national treasures they can sell to pay down their debts, which amounts to the same thing. These measures will not be popular with your fellow heads of state, but I am confident that with a gun to their heads some persuasion, they will be convinced that this is the best course of action to protect the euro zone.
Here are a few examples of things our allies could sell to raise some money.
> SPAIN. Debt: 60% of GDP (2010 figure) World Cup trophy, won in 2010: It’s a small thing, but the English and Dutch are foolish enough to get into a bidding war for it. It’s the only way they’ll ever get their hands on one, right? Ha! Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas: This is one of the famous bull-fighting rings in the world. Maybe Jim Cramer would buy it? He’s rich and it’s the perfect backdrop for his show. (As the Americans like to say: Boo-yah!)
> BELGIUM. Debt: 97% of GDP Manneken Pis: This is that stupid bronze statue in Brussels of a little boy with water coming out of his penis. God knows what the appeal is, but the tourists love it and it has been around since the 1600s, so it has to be worth something.
> ITALY. Debt: 119% of GDP Piazza del Duomo in Pisa: I am talking about the whole site, including the leaning tower, a monument to shoddy Italian construction methods if there ever was one. The Italians won’t want to give it up, but too bad. Maybe they should have thought of that before they let their credit-card bill hit ¤1 trillion.
> IRELAND. Debt: 96% of GDP Blarney Castle: Perhaps those of us with a few euros to spare could pitch in and buy this one. Can you think of a better name for the new home of the European Commission? (We discussed a takeover of the Guinness factory, but that might cause an armed revolt.)
> FRANCE. Debt: 82% of GDP Naming rights for the Eiffel Tower: Yes, it’s very nice to have your capital city’s most famous landmark named after a dead engineer. But that kind of thing is a luxury for solvent countries. Some corporation would pay a fortune to have its name on it. The Volkswagen Tower—has a nice ring, no? (Can you imagine the look on Nicolas’s face?!?)
> GREECE. Debt: 143% of GDP The Greeks already sold the rights to many sources of future revenue. But they still own more than 6,000 islands, and I think Germany should buy some. To be honest, Chancellor, you could use a bit of sun. You’ve been looking rather pale lately.
Wolfgang Schäuble Minister of Finance