Spending time with top European policymakers at the moment is scary and slightly nauseating, like the final, slow-motion moments before a car accident, when you can see precisely both how you will probably crash and what it would take, if only you could force your paralyzed muscles into action, to swerve to safety.
That’s why Christine Lagarde, the formidable French chief of the International Monetary Fund, told me this week that she wants to lock Europe’s dithering leaders in a room and leave them there until they figure things out.
“If I was able to do one thing, I would lock them in a room, take the key and let them come up with a comprehensive plan,” Lagarde said, when I asked what her fantasy scenario was for Europe. “I’m sure they can make it. I know the fundamentals are solid. The numbers on an aggregate basis are good. And, as I said, we have to take the key because they cannot escape unless and until they’ve firmed up the plan. But they can do it.”
Lagarde’s dream is frustrating and encouraging in equal measure because she is right: There is a clear, credible and widely accepted path to safety for Europe. But that car crash may still happen, because no one has the power to lock Europe’s leaders in a room, and, absent that forcing mechanism, they may not muster the will or the sense of urgency to act in time.
The sticking point is not policy. Speaking on a panel with Lagarde, Jörg Asmussen, a member of the European Central Bank’s executive board and a former official at the German Ministry of Finance, outlined what Europe needs to do.