European leaders shift their focus this week to bolstering the euro region’s debt-crisis firewall after the Group of 20 nations rebuffed their call for help.
The decision by G-20 finance ministers to fend off pleas for assistance pending an increase in the euro-area backstop puts the onus on Germany, the biggest national contributor to bailouts, to overcome its resistance to doing more.
With a parliamentary vote on a second Greek aid package looming in Berlin today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government must decide next month whether to back plans to combine rescue funds and produce a potential firewall of 750 billion euros ($1 trillion). European Union leaders convene for a summit meeting in Brussels on March 1-2.
Europe “doesn’t really need any outside money,” Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said in an e-mail. “It needs their own policy makers, especially Germany, to show leadership.”
Finland votes on the same package on Feb. 29 while the European Central Bank is preparing to issue a second round of unlimited three-year loans to help shore up the region’s banks.
Germany went to the Mexico meetings of finance ministers and central bankers urging G-20 nations to find fresh money for the International Monetary Fund that could be channeled to defuse the euro-region crisis now in its third year. IMF chief Christine Lagarde, who attended the talks, said she wants to raise the Washington-based fund’s lending capacity by $500 billion to fend off “further shocks” to the global economy.
Merkel Urges IMF
This week’s EU summit likely won’t reach a decision on expanding the firewall, putting off a final verdict on the issue until later in March, European Commission President Jose Barroso said today at the Lisbon Council in Brussels.
“March of course has 31 days,” Barroso said. “During March this matter is going to be addressed.”
Merkel’s coalition today urged that the IMF “as far as possible, continues to play a financial role in the program” for Greece, according to a resolution for the Greek aid vote obtained by Bloomberg News.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Greece would have better chances of overhauling its economy if it left the euro area, Der Spiegel said today, citing an interview, adding that this is the first time a German Cabinet member has suggested a Greek exit. Germany’s Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper, ran a front-page headline today saying “Stop!” and urged lawmakers to vote against further Greek aid. With the opposition Social Democrats and Greens backing aid for Greece the measure is likely to win approval.
Stocks, Euro Fall
The G-20 concluded that a European review of its financial firewall in March is “essential” before any consideration can be made to boost resources for the IMF, the G-20 said in its closing statement issued in Mexico City yesterday. Progress will be assessed in April, when officials gather in Washington for the IMF’s spring meetings.
“Until we see the color of their money, I don’t think you are going to see any money from the rest of the world,” U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in an interview in Mexico City.
Pressure on Europe
The U.S. led calls for Europe to step up, with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner saying in a Feb. 25 speech in Mexico that the region needed to make their crisis-fighting commitments “credible.” The same day, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said a deal struck last week for Greece’s 130 billion-euro bailout showed “Europe has done its homework.”
The exchange underscored G-20 divisions as Japan, Brazil, Russia and the U.K. joined with the U.S. and Canada in prodding the euro-area to boost its crisis defenses. The deliberations left no time for discussion of a successor to World Bank chief Robert Zoellick, who steps down on Jun 30.
While the German government has yet to show its hand on a plan to combine the 250 billion euros remaining in the region’s temporary fund and the 500 billion-euro permanent rescue fund that is due to come into force in July, Merkel has signaled she may be open to review the matter at the EU summit in Brussels.
Germany Opposes Funds
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said Feb. 25 there was no change in the German position that there’s no need to raise the funding limit, rebutting a report in Germany’s Focus magazine. Focus had said Merkel’s government was prepared to concede and allow 250 billion euros in additional funding from the remaining volume of the EFSF.
As with Germany’s stance on the crisis since it first came to light in Greece in late 2009, Merkel must take into account domestic considerations. A total of 62 percent of German voters said they want lawmakers to reject aid for Greece in today’s vote, an Emnid poll of 500 people for Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed yesterday. Thirty-two percent backed the bailout.
EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn, asked in Mexico if he expected a deal on the firewall at this week’s summit, said he anticipated a result “in the course of March.” Italy’s central banker, Ignazio Visco, echoed those sentiments.
“The Germans have their own sequencing” and “want Greece out of the way” before debating the firewall, Jacques Cailloux of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc., said by phone. “Any hope there could have been for an agreement on a higher firewall as early as this week’s summit is fading.”
Even so, the G-20’s stance on additional funds is not as big a focus for investors as Greece and the ECB’s decision to offer banks unlimited liquidity for three years, the second such offering in three months, Cailloux said.
Pressure for a deal in Mexico eased after European bond markets reacted positively to last week’s agreement to help Greece avert the euro-area’s first sovereign default.
Italy’s 10-year bonds rose for a seventh week, the longest run of gains in the euro-era, while Spanish 10-year bonds had their biggest weekly advance in a month.
Europe’s Stoxx 600 (SXXP) index slipped 0.4 percent last week on concern that Greece won’t be able to implement the austerity measures needed for the rescue. The European Commission said the euro area’s economy will shrink this year.
‘More Firepower Needed’
“In order to reassure market investors that contagion is under control, more firepower is needed,” Andrew Milligan, who helps oversee about $262 billion as the Edinburgh-based head of global strategy at Standard Life Investments Ltd., said in an e- mail. “Pressure is certainly growing on Germany and others to increase the firewall. I think eventually they will agree, although it may take another crisis or a difficult period of negotiation before that happens.”
Euro-area governments have pledged about $200 billion in new money to the IMF’s lending resources. Geithner said in Mexico that he won’t go to Congress to seek a U.S. contribution because “we don’t think that’s necessary or desirable.”
Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega said after meeting with his counterparts from Russia, India, China and South Africa that the BRICS group of major emerging markets will only add more funding for Europe if the region’s leaders follow “precisely to the letter” a 2010 agreement to give them a bigger say in how the IMF is run.
Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pointed the finger at Germany for being absent at the helm, saying that it was time for Europe’s dominant country to “take that leadership role very seriously and come up with an overall euro-zone plan.”
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