Europe can’t put out the blaze

November 8, 2011

If the world thought that Europe’s finance ministers were running in to put out the blaze spreading through Athens and Rome this week, it might come as a surprise to learn they still don’t agree on the size of the fire or how to deal with it.

Any training course will tell you that if a small fire isn’t tackled quickly, it could make things a lot worse. The Greek crisis is like a small electrical fire that has grown into a dangerous inferno now threatening to gut Italy.

But ministers meeting in Brussels have clearly not been on any fire extinguisher training courses lately — they don’t know their water from their foam and their dry powder. In fact, they appear to be pouring oil on the fire.

Belgium’s Finance Minister Didier Reynders says it is best to try to smother the blaze with a small cloth soaked in a chemical called a financial transaction tax, while Sweden’s Anders Borg and Austria’s Maria Fekter say they can’t spare any of their CO2 extinguishers.

“Italy can achieve a lot from its own doing,” Fekter told reporters who were watching the fire grow closer. Borg, Fekter and others are sure the Italians in the burning building down the street will be able to sort things out themselves.

Spain’s Elena Salgado is meanwhile clearly upset that the smoke from that fire is billowing into her garden, but France’s Francois Baroin says there was no need to reach for a fire hose: “Tout va bien” (Everything’s going well), he said, wiping his brow from the heat.
A combustible mix of hot air and faulty wiring seem to be one assessment of the causes of the euro zone flames, which no one is really willing to consider. But as the sound of emergency sirens grows louder, it may be time to remove the safety pin from the extinguisher marked “European Central Bank” — it may be the only way to remove all the oxygen feeding the fire.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

This abysmal standard of journalist’s jaw is only found in the monolingual english-speaking section of reuters.

I blame BSE and english school food for the retardation.

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

This is a very pessimistic perspective, and a typically American one, though I do not know the nationality of the author. The EU has gone through worse than this, the US already has done. What is important is not the possibility of economic collapse, which the entire world would rather step in to prevent rather than permit, but the possibility of change in the EU. The Merkozy alliance is on the brink of major EU reform which may shape the balance of power in the world as we know it.  /12/merkozy-and-new-europe.html

Posted by TristanGray | Report as abusive

Hmmmm… how to summarize these things? “Rome fiddles while Europe burns?”

Posted by WouldChuk | Report as abusive