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Sarkozy Lays Out Vision on Eurozone Reforms

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking in Toulon, Dec. 1, 2011.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking in Toulon, Dec. 1, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made an impassioned appeal for saving the euro currency union and outlined the broad framework of what he thinks must be done. Sarkozy's speech in the southern city of Toulon comes as the clock ticks down to finding a solution to the eurozone crisis, which France and Germany vow to do.

President Sarkozy offered a grim assessment about the state of France - and of Europe - at a time of shrinking growth, rising deficits and growing fears of the eurozone imploding. He spoke a week ahead of a key summit of European leaders who are facing mounting pressure to come up with a strong, bold and comprehensive solution to the eurozone crisis after what many believe is a series of half measures throughout the year.

In a televised speech before a packed audience in the industrial city of Toulon, Sarkozy tied France's future to the 17-nation eurozone. He said the disappearance of the euro currency union would have dramatic consequences on the country, doubling French debt.  Everything would be paralyzed.  The French would be impoverished, he said.

France and Germany - Europe's two heavyweights - have vowed to come up with a plan to save the euro by the year's end - most likely by next week's European Union summit. Sarkozy laid out his ideas for dealing with the eurozone debt crisis.

He said Europe needs more solidarity - but he added solidarity also demands fiscal discipline among member nations.  He also pushed for more of what he called "convergence" among eurozone members and for reforming the EU's two-year-old governing Lisbon treaty.  

But Sarkozy left out many details - and experts and officials say key differences remain between  French and German visions of rescuing the eurozone. Germany has also been championing stronger fiscal discipline among member nations - to the point of giving European authorities the power to reject national budgets that breach EU rules.

Experts like Karel Lannoo of the Center for European Policy Studies believe France would reject ceding so much national authority to Europe.

"Whether France would accept giving away some powers to a super administration - the the EU or to the [European] Commission - is another question," said Lannoo.

For its part, Germany rejects the idea beefing up the European Central Bank to become a lender of last resort - an idea France supports. In his speech, Sarkozy left the bank's future open, but said it would remain independent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is outlining her views of Europe's future in a speech before the German parliament on Friday. The two leaders also hold talks on Monday - just three days before the EU summit.

Whether Europe's leaders will come out with a far-reaching plan to save the currency zone is anybody's guess.

"It is likely they will come up with something but it depends very much on the details of this plan and the political support of that and on the credibility this plan will have with the markets…and we are running out of time at the moment. So it might be far too late," said analyst Paola Subacchi, of the London think-tank Chatham House.

But as far is Sarkozy is concerned, the alternative - the implosion of the eurozone - is unthinkable.

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