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Bailouts too high a price for eurozone?

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
Fears about the Irish economy have pushed down the value of the euro against the dollar.
Fears about the Irish economy have pushed down the value of the euro against the dollar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Irish PM announced swingeing austerity measures to win EU, IMF bailout
  • Fears of crisis spreading to Portugal and Spain has causes euro to slide
  • EU bailout chief allayed fears eurozone is not capable of paying for more rescue plans

London, England (CNN) -- Greece may be on the road to recovery according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the economic crisis engulfing its eurozone partners Ireland, Spain and Portugal has raised questions about the future of Europe's common currency.

On Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced swingeing austerity measures for its debt-ridden economy designed to win approval -- and a multi-billion euro bailout -- from its European Union partners and the IMF.

Ireland needs funds urgently to shore up its struggling banking sector and buttress the government, which has poured billions into saving its banks. But fears about the Irish economy have pushed down the value of the euro against the dollar and put stock markets under pressure.

Ireland's austerity plan revealed

To compound matters there are fears Portugal and Spain, each with a budget deficit to rival that of Ireland, could be next in line for a bailout. A rescue plan for Spain, whose economy dwarfs that of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, would place a massive strain on the eurozone.

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How to save Ireland

On Thursday, the head of the European Union's bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility, rejected any suggestion the money could run out if the crisis spread and added that the eurozone was not going to disintegrate.

What Ireland's bailout means

Klaus Regling told Germany's Bild newspaper Thursday that it was "unimaginable" that the euro could fail. "No country would leave the euro of their own free will -- for weak countries, it would be economic suicide and for the strong countries too."

But David Buik, of BGC Partners, told CNN that the eurozone was in "major need of repair," with individual members guilty of pursuing their own agenda.

"It is a disaster and was always going to be," he said. "I think what has damaged the European cause at the moment is the fact that the leadership has been pitiful and they've not all been singing from the same hymn sheet."

He said the Irish austerity plan was presented "in a slipshod, patchy manner without putting enough meat on the bone."

He added: "They've been far too slow. The market is always right and the market doesn't believe that it's a plausible plan because it doesn't know all the details. As a result you've seen the yield (interest rate) on 10-year bonds in Ireland go up from 8 percent on Monday to 8.9 percent today. That's awful."

Rising yields on government bonds weaken the finances of the banks holding them because it makes them less valuable. As a result banks are inclined to lend less, which hurts the wider economy.

Earlier this year, Britain's Telegraph newspaper claimed France and Germany had been examining a new two-tier euro area, with France, Germany, Holland, Austria and Finland being part of a "super-euro" zone. The remaining "poorer-performing" members would be left to operate in a second zone.

I think what has damaged the European cause at the moment is the fact that the leadership has been pitiful.
--Analyst David Buik
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The idea would be that the wealthier northern economies would be protected from debt contagion, while the "south" would be spared the pain of being forced to go it alone.

Portuguese protest austerity cuts

However Buik said it was more likely that two or three of these underperforming countries could be asked to leave the eurozone project a few years down the line.

Gillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, told CNN that the current crisis has uncovered some "fundamental structural contradictions" inside the eurozone project.

"Many investors, particularly in the U.S., have long been concerned about this and those concerns have now come to the fore," she said. "Frankly, the eurozone leaders collectively have still not shown the type of cohesion and proactive policy response that many people want to see right now.

"The bitter irony is that the government of Ireland itself has done quite a lot and been quite cohesive and forward-looking. So the big question is whether the eurozone leaders, jointly, can do that."