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Waiting for Europe’s “appropriate response”
Investors are hoping for something big from European leaders at the EU summit on Oct. 23 and of the Group of 20 on Nov. 3. But they also know the 17 nations of the euro have a habit of offering delayed, half-hearted rescues that have cost them credibility.
So there’s been a lot of “urging” and “warning” in Brussels lately — politicians and central bankers have all been demanding Europe act as international alarm grows that its sovereign debt problems may drag the world into recession. “Further delays are only aggravating the situation,” said European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet on Tuesday in his last appearance at the European Parliament, before he hands over the post to Mario Draghi on Nov. 1.
A day earlier, Germany’s Deputy Finance Minister, Joerg Asmussen, at the parliament to promote his candidacy to join the ECB‘s board, made his call, saying “cooperation has to be increased,” across the euro members, divided as to who should pay to rescue the heavily indebted nations of southern Europe. “I want to see a solution for debt sustainability for Greece,” Asmussen said. So do so many others, especially Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who in Brussels on Thursday said it was a “crucial element to make the necessary decisions concerning Greece.”
The European Roundtable of Industrialists, a business lobby of multinationals ranging from French car maker Renault to Spain’s Telefonica, has also come through Brussels to make its point. The group’s head, Leif Johansson, who is also chairman of Swedish phone maker Ericsson, warned that if European leaders fail to act, businesses could see a repeat of the liquidity freeze that followed the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.
The Oct. 23 summit is being billed as a make-or-break event where Germany and France, the main powers in the euro zone, must come up with the solutions investors want. A meeting last Sunday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and their promise of a comprehensive strategy, suggests there will be a serious attempt to put forward a framework to try to resolve the crisis.
There could be a deal for a second bailout plan for Greece and an agreement on who pays what, including a 30 percent to 50 percent writedown in Greek private sector debt, EU officials say. The focus is also on the banks, who need more capital reserves as protection against losses in Greece.
And finally, there will likely an agreement to multiply the power of the bloc’s EFSF rescue fund beyond its 440 billion euro ($600 billion) limit, which would not be enough to deal with Italy, the world’s fourth-largest borrower with its sovereign debt running to almost 2 trillion euros.
Unless France and Germany come up with something sooner, of course. But whatever they say they will do, it must convince investors. Trichet seemed to say it best. “We are the epicenter of a global crisis … we need an appropriate response.”