“Merkel has her own deadline, in September 2013,” Hollande told reporters Thursday as he entered the summit, referring to German elections next year.
Merkel appeared frustrated at the calls for quicker movement on the crisis response. “Quality must come before speed,” she said.
Merkel and Hollande met one-on-one immediately before the summit, but their disagreement was a sharp reminder that the German leader and Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande’s predecessor, made a habit of entering the summits with a common agenda.
On the edge of resolution
For now, Europe appears to be on the verge of resolving its thorniest immediate problems, with a wide spectrum of leaders indicating that they would give Greece more time to fix its economy, rather than kicking it off the euro because it failed to live up to promises made when it received a bailout. And Spain appears poised to ask for a credit line from Europe’s bailout fund, according to European diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss another country’s internal deliberations. That would give the European Central Bank the green light to begin intervening to ensure that Spain’s borrowing costs remain below dangerous levels.
But analysts warn that European economies remain dangerously fragile and that the market calm now could easily yield to panic in the face of ratings downgrades or continued poor economic performance in countries such as France and Italy.
“What has been clear over the past few weeks is how complacent euro-zone policymakers become when there’s a period of calm,” said Simon Tilford, chief economist of the London-based Center for European Reform. “There’s this gap between rhetoric and reality. And at the same time, you see a really worrisome deterioration of the economic picture across southern Europe.”
A euro-zone budget
The leaders were also discussing plans to set up a common euro-zone budget. That, too, will be fleshed out in more detail at another summit in December, and France and Germany differ on what to use the money for.
But Merkel’s suggestion of a powerful E.U. commissar who would have make-or-break power over national budgets appeared to rankle some European officials, who were surprised that she brought up the idea in a speech before Germany’s parliament on Thursday morning, just before she got on a plane for Brussels.
“It’s a no-go, full stop,” at least as Merkel has currently framed it, said one European diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss his assessment of the proposal. Officials in other countries say their electorates would never consent to handing over final say on budgets to an unelected potentate in Brussels.
European leaders have raised the prospect of broader constitutional change to bolster the say of ordinary citizens in the complex workings of the E.U. But changes could take years, and leaders were planning to initiate the discussion in the coming months.
In the meantime, though, European economies are struggling under the overall pressure of high debt and unemployment and dismal growth prospects.
“We’ve moved from the acute to the chronic part of the crisis,” said Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define, a think tank. “They can buy time, but it keeps getting more expensive.”