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September 16, 2011

EU Finance Ministers Fail to Agree on New Debt Measures

Anti-austerity protesters put an early end to a two-day European Union finance ministers meeting in Poland that failed to achieve a breakthrough on key measures to tackle Europe's growing financial crisis.

The two-day meeting of European finance ministers concluded earlier than expected Saturday, when police allowed thousands of people protesting economic austerity measures to vent their anger in the Polish city of Wroclaw. Austerity is the catch-word these days in Europe, as the European Union tries to deal with a spiraling financial crisis gripping the 17 nations sharing the euro currency.

In an interview on Britain's Sky News Saturday, British Chancellor George Osborne offered a stark assessment of the challenge.

"I think everyone here understands the severity of the situation," said Osborne. "People know that time is running out. The eurozone needs to know it needs a grip on the situation."

Eurozone ministers postponed until October a decision to give debt-strapped Greece $11 billion more in emergency loans pending clear indications that Athens was holding to their bailout conditions. But France's Finance Minister Francois Baroin told reporters that the Europeans were close to reaching a solution on another sticking point, demands by Finland for collateral in exchange for lending more money to Greece.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attended part of the talks in Poland, underscoring growing alarm that Europe's problems might threaten America's own shaky economic recovery. But news reports suggest that European officials reacted coolly to Geithner's suggestions for handling their sovereign debt and banking woes.

The financial crisis that began with Greece's skyrocketing debt and deficit has since spread to Portugal and Ireland, which have also received bailout packages. It now threatens to spread even further, touching larger economies like Italy and possibly even France. A number of European banks are also exposed to Greek and other debts.

Many analysts have been highly critical of Europe's handling of the crisis, saying governments are acting too slowly and timidly, and as a result, fanning further alarm in the markets.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.