Merkel isolated but firm ahead of crunch EU summit
Source: BI-ME with AFP , Author: Posted by BI-ME staff
Posted: Wed June 27, 2012 12:01 pm

INTERNATIONAL. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is increasingly isolated ahead of Thursday's last-gasp EU summit to save the euro, analysts say, but she seems unlikely to bend and has already won concessions on key issues.

Under fire from all sides both within Europe and from the likes of China and the United States, Merkel has refused to yield to demands for pooling eurozone debt in the shape of eurobonds or allowing bailout funds to help stricken banks.

In the run-up to the summit, she even appeared to harden her line, dismissing eurobonds as "economically wrong and counterproductive" and saying she was "worried" there was too much talk of putting eurozone debt in one pot.

Berlin is unwilling to consider what Merkel termed "easy" solutions to the debt crisis -- such as eurobonds -- that it believes do not strike at the heart of the problem: lax fiscal discipline and insufficiently centralised EU control.

Merkel has reiterated that the answer to the crisis is "more Europe, not less Europe" and wants to see member states ceding sovereignty to Brussels. "Guarantees and controls must go together," she has frequently insisted.

But jittery financial markets want to see short-term answers as country after country finds itself under the EU's safety net and concerns grow that there are not enough lifeboats to go around.

Jennifer McKeown, an analyst at Capital Economics, said: "Germany is opposed to joint funding of government borrowing or bank recapitalisation unless it has control of other countries' fiscal and banking policies."

"Meanwhile, France and Italy favour rapid moves to provide financial aid and are unwilling to relinquish sovereignty to Germany.

"Unless either Germany or the Franco-Italian camp has a dramatic and uncharacteristic change of heart, hopes that this week will bring a solution to keep the union together in its current form are likely to be disappointed."

With Cyprus the fifth member of the 17-nation eurozone to seek a bailout, Europe's politicians have engaged in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy to thrash out a solution, culminating in Merkel's dinner with French President Francois Hollande later Wednesday.

The summit is likely to agree on a "growth pact" with measures worth around 130 billion euros ($163 billion) as well as a plan towards closer union that will hand the EU the final say over national budgets in the eurozone.

Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING bank in Brussels, said Berlin would not sign up to anything that looks like a pooling of debt until there is more of a fiscal and political union among at least the countries that share the euro.

"Any kind of collectivisation seems to be like a red rag to a bull to the German government. It does not look as if the German government would change this position easily.

"This does not mean that the government is not committed and determined to save the eurozone. It is. The German government simply sticks to its principle of strict conditionality," said the analyst.

Another economist, Holger Schmieding from Berenberg Bank, pointed to another constraint on Merkel -- the German constitutional court that has shown itself increasingly wary of transferring more powers to Brussels.

"Genuine eurobonds are not compatible with the German constitution in our view," he said.

"Those who harbour hopes that Merkel could agree to eurobonds or a debt redemption fund may want to have a word with Germany's constitutional court."

For the moment at least, Merkel appears to have got her way. The issues of eurobonds and the bailout pot directly funding banks were swept under the carpet at a recent mini-summit of the eurozone's top four leaders in Rome.

And even the prime minister of France, the leading advocate of eurobonds, acknowledged in a recent media interview that mutualising debt needed deeper political integration that would take years.

Germany's influential Bild daily, the most widely-read paper in Europe, pointed to another reason Merkel is unlikely to bend on eurobonds -- the country's own debt mountain that recently topped two trillion euros.

"Germany should never guarantee the debts of other countries," the paper wrote in an editorial ahead of the summit.

"Not only because we do not want to. But above all, because we can simply not afford to."

 

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