A recent Report by economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland estimates that the total amount of public and private debt issued by entities resident in Greece, Spain and Portugal that is held by foreign financial institutions -- financial entities outside the P(II)GS -- is about 2000 billion euros. This is about 22 percent of the euro area GDP.
(by the way, I found no links to the report itself, but a brief description that essentially corroborates the calculations may be found here .
The message seems clear: P(II)GS are too big to fail.
Hence the bail-out that European Union leaders (together with the IMF and the US) have designed for Greece.
And hence the need for fiscal rules, coupled with fiscal federalism, that several of us have been arguing for in this blog -- stressing, as I have done, how they would be positive for our profligate country in need of importing yet this good that it can not produce domestically (discipline).
I think, moreover, that this Report makes it clear why the solution that Ricardo Cabral devised in a post to EuVox -- rescheduling and reestructuring -- is economically misconceived. The international financial turmoil would be enormous and the Euro would be in real danger. We wouldn't want to have Argentina in Europe.
This said, the essence of the problem remains to be solved: P(II)GS simply cannot live above their means so systematically and deeply. Think about Portugal: 10 percent of GDP of current account deficit, year after year; a country that is lacking structural competitiveness; and politicians that (some, to be fair) remain autistic about this.
Against this background, has the Portuguese government done everything to its reach in order to contain the indebtedness of Portuguese entities? I do not think so.
Public expenditure should be significantly reduced, which I haven't seen so far (at least compared with Ireland and Spain's immediate measures). And -- a crucial 'and', for me -- renewed incentives for residents to hold public debt should be created. The Portuguese twin deficits will only be tackled if and when the Government actually stops spending inefficiently and sucking resources from the public to finance that spending; and when it creates virtuous 'forced savings', instead of the vicious ones that have been recently implemented (increased taxes). If the Portuguese save more because they are stimulated to allocate increased savings to public debt, the international financial exposure of the Government would fall, imports would deccelerate and the international financial exposure of the country as a whole would decrease; the immediate signs needed for Brussels -- cutting the deficit -- should have given much more via spending cuts than they have actually been given.