Today’s Le Soir is reporting on the conclusions that the Belgian parliamentary committee on intelligence services (the ComitÃ© R) seems to be coming to in its closed door hearings on the SWIFT banking information affair (see here and here). The article is in the print edition of Le Soir, and online for a fee.
According to the paper, SWIFT will likely escape criminal sanction, but may face civil penalties if the courts decide they gave the Americans more data than was strictly necessary to fight terrorism. Much of the logic appears to be based on the fact that the data itself is outside of Belgium, in the Netherlands and the USA. Furthermore, it seems likely that SWIFT employees will not face charges for failing to inform the Belgian government of its decision to give the CIA access to its records, since such a disclosure would have meant criminal penalties in the US.
The article also claims that the Belgian National Bank, which was informed of the program, will likely face the most criticism. The bank had decided that since SWIFT’s decision did not affect financial stability, it was not the bank’s responsibility to take any action. The committee, however, seems to have decided that this was a serious error. The National Bank had a responsibility to inform the state and would not have been subject to criminal penalties for doing so.
The committee has also apparently let the state security services and the federal police off the hook for not doing anything, claiming that the first had no responsibility outside of military threats and that the second didn’t know until the New York Times broke the story. As is typically the case in Belgium, the legislation controlling the police’s responsibility is somewhat vague. The federal police are supposed to protect Belgium’s “scientific and economic potential” and no one seems clear on what that means in practice.
The euro fell briefly below $1.19 yesterday. There is nothing surprising or exceptional about that, the common currency has been drifting steadily downwards against the dollar for a number of, by-now, pretty well known reasons – better economic performance in the US, a growing interest rate differential between the ECB and the Fed, political issues following the referendum noes, and an incapacity to decide what to do with the SGP. Yesterday however, an apparently new element was introduced: Christian Noyer, and his appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly.
That this should have caused a stir surprises me. Christian Noyer is Governor of the French national bank (and not simply, as much of the press report, an ECB governing council member). It is therefore perfectly logical that when asked whether any country could leave the eurozone, he should reply in the affirmative. EU member states are, as Noyer says, still sovereign nations. He would therefore have been lying to answer ‘no, it is impossible’. Curiously, the other part of M. Noyer’s recorded testimony, that any exit would put in question continued membership of the EU is far more debateable, yet seems to have attracted far less attention.
Membership of a currency union is (or should be) an economic, not a political decision. Decisions on entry or exit should therefore be taken on economic grounds, and discussions of the issues involved should be possible without an atmosphere of emotional hysteria. Of course, if your currency falls simply because someone states the obvious (I mean the information content *is* zero), then this may indicate that there is a rather deeper problem knocking around somewhere or other.
Update: Jean-Claude Trichet yesterday defended the current ECB TWIRP stance (two per cent interest rate policy) before the European parliament?s monetary affairs committee and understandably rejected a call for an annual evaluation of the benefits of the common currency for zone-member citizens.