IMF to Save Italy, Spain from Default?

Northern resistance to fiscal union may necessitate a bigger role for the IMF in the euro crisis.

An International Monetary Fund spokesperson denied reports that had surfaced in Italian news media on Monday of an international rescue mission preparing to aid Italy with up to €600 billion.

Contact between IMF officials and Rome had reportedly intensified nevertheless as Northern European countries, including Germany, are opposed to enabling the European Central Bank to purchase Italian sovereign debt indefinitely.

The central bankers in Frankfurt have spent several tens of billions buying peripheral bonds since this late this summer but are worried that if they continue their effort for much longer, it will discourage the governments involved from enacting the necessary economic reforms.

Despite the controversial central bank intervention, Italy’s borrowing costs have risen to rates that are deemed unsustainable in the long term.

Spain, Europe’s fourth largest economy, is similarly struggling to finance its deficit spending. It may be offered access to IMF credit to prevent its predicament from worsening.

Both countries have seen political upheaval in recent weeks with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi forced to resign as prime minister to make way for a caretaker government and the opposition conservatives winning the parliamentary elections in Spain. Mariano Rajoy is expected to replace the socialist José Luis Zapatero as prime minister in December and announce additional austerity measures to shore up the nation’s finances.

In Italy, Mario Monti is set to unveil his economic reform agenda next month as well which could include an accelerated increase in the pension age, a rise in sales taxes and a revamped housing tax.

IMF inspectors will monitor Italy’s fiscal consolidation. Its €1.8 trillion economy is too big to bail out for other European countries, even if the €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility is expanded.

Heavily indebted euro nations and the European Commission advocate an activist role for the central bank and the issuance of eurobonds respectively which would effectively make Germany and its austerity allies the paymasters of the currency union.

The Dutch finance minister, who was in Berlin on Friday to consult with his Finnish and German counterparts, rejected both proposals. “There is a lot of pressure about eurobonds or European Central Bank financing, and we said ‘no’, we have something else, and that is an increased role for the IMF.”