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October 19, 2012

European Leaders Take Partial Step Toward Stabilization

by Al Pessin

European leaders took an important step - though only a partial one - toward stabilizing their economies at a summit Thursday night. They are making difficult changes that could have impact on the continent and the world.

European leaders gathered in Brussels from all parts of the region and nearly as many points of view. In the end, they agreed to move toward tighter control of banks in countries that use the euro, what is known as "banking union."

"The urgent element now is setting up a single supervisory mechanism to prevent banking risks and cross-border contagion from emerging, and that's why the European Council called tonight for swift progress," said EU Council president Herman van Rompuy.

But not swift enough for some, who wanted a firm date for implementing the plan early next year.

Calls for 'Fiscal Union'

And some experts say even full banking union would not be enough to stop the downslide in troubled European economies and to prevent such crises in the future. Among them is Guntram Wolff, deputy director of the Bruegel European think tank.
 
"The real discussion we need to have now is about not just the banking union, but also about the fiscal resources that are needed at the euro zone level," said Wolff.
 
That means what is called "fiscal union" - a budget funded by euro countries to prop up troubled banks and governments as needed. And that will take still more time to negotiate.

Critics are vocal

At a recent conference in Brussels, there was plenty of criticism for European leaders for not doing enough, quickly enough, to end the crisis. Critics like Bernadette Segol of the European Trade Union Confederation called for more growth stimulus and more concern for Europeans hit hard by the crisis.

"We have to change course. The measures that have been taken until now are not working and they are very unfair. Inequalities are rising in Europe and that has to change," said Segol.

Sitting next to her at the speakers' table, European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso agreed that economic growth is needed, but he argued against allowing troubled countries to take on more debt to stimulate it.

Europe tied into global economy

"There is nothing more anti-social than high levels of debt. Every euro spent on the interest of debt is a euro that is not going for public health, for education, for help for the most needy - and not only for this generation, for the future," said Barroso.
 
Although the focus at the conference and at the summit was on solving Europe's problems, Mikael Hagstrom of the American Chamber of Commerce in Europe said the effort has implications for the broader world.

"If we can unite Europe and take some of the blockages to the arteries away, then we're also going to be able to be more engaged in a G20 world and be more inclusive to the G20 world," said Hagstrom.
 
But even after years of crisis, there is much more negotiating to do before Europe can effectively address its problems, ease the burden on its people and move to restore its role in the global economy.