A telling moment. Before pretty much every showdown EU summit since the debt crisis exploded into life, the leaders of France and Germany have got together beforehand to agree a common strategy. It is a truism that the European motor only works efficiently when its two biggest powers are in accord.
This time, following the election of Francois Hollande as French president, there has been no such meeting. Instead he will talk with Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy in Paris before they head to the Brussels summit.
There, Hollande will press for the currency bloc to start issuing joint euro zone bonds and will run into implacable German opposition that will squash the plan for now.
But the plates are shifting and German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks somewhat isolated.
On euro bonds, Hollande can call on the support of Italy’s Mario Monti and the European Commission among others.
Nonetheless, Angela holds the purse strings so while we will see some modest pro-growth measures agreed (and no doubt trumpeted), there will be no pump-priming that requires extra deficit spending, certainly no mutualising of debt and probably no hint that the likes of Greece and Spain will be given longer to make the cuts demanded of them (though that policy’s time could soon come, depending on how the June 17 Greek elections go).
Greek contagion aside, Spain remains the bloc’s biggest headache largely because of the weight of bad debts dragging its banking sector down. One idea is to allow the euro zone’s rescue funds to lend to banks direct, thereby removing the stigma of a government having to ask for aid. But Berlin is not keen on this one either.
Less controversial are plans to boost the capital of the European Investment Bank, use “project bonds” backed by the EU budget to invest in infrastructure and recalibrate some EU structural funds which has been used to help poorer EU members so that it is spent in other areas which might yield a quick growth dividend. None of that can hurt. But peashooters and elephants come to mind.