A short-lived rumor recently suggested that the International Monetary Fund was putting together a €600 billion ($803 billion) package for Italy to buy its new government about 18 months to implement the necessary adjustment program. Except for the magnitude of the package, this sounds no different from a standard IMF adjustment program – the kind that we are accustomed to seeing (and criticizing) in the developing world. But there is one crucial difference: Italy is part of a select club that does not need outside rescue funds.
So far, programs for the eurozone periphery have been spearheaded and largely financed by European governments, with the IMF contributing financially, but mainly acting as an external consultant – the third party that tells the client the nasty bits while everyone else in the room stares at their shoes.
By contrast, the attempt to crowd multilateral resources into Europe was made explicit by eurozone finance ministers’ call in November for IMF resources to be boosted – preferably through debt-generating bilateral loans,– so that it could “cooperate more closely” with the European Financial Stability Facility. That means that the short-lived story of Italy’s jumbo IMF package, which was to be funded largely by non-European money, can be regarded as a game changer: while Italy may never receive such a package, Europe, it seems, is determined to resolve its problems using other people’s money.
There are at least three reasons why the IMF should resist this pressure, and abstain from increasing its (already extremely high) exposure to Europe.