Skeptical Germans see a pattern, as hopes for comprehensive solutions have built before one high-profile meeting after another this year, only to crash back to earth when leaders yet again fail to halt the crisis.
“This summit will be just another big disappointment for those who expect something big,” said Clemens Fuest, an economist at Oxford University who is an adviser to the German Finance Ministry. “Ahead of the summit, we see the usual process. Expectations are very high, and then Merkel comes in with her expectations management.”
In a much-anticipated speech in Germany’s parliament last week, Merkel said little that she hadn’t said before. She called for treaty changes that would make the rest of the euro zone behave more like Germany, and compared Europe’s work to a marathon, not a sprint.
But German officials acknowledged privately Sunday that despite her focus on long-term fixes, they will need to take short-term measures to calm markets and help troubled countries such as Italy and Spain with their borrowing costs, which have spiked to euro-era records in recent weeks.
Still, as the tone inside Merkel’s office remains dead-set against the fastest ways to cap the crisis, a growing number of critics are complaining that she and Sarkozy aren’t moving quickly enough.
“These days, Europe needs one more treaty a lot less than immediate steps,” said Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate for French president, in an interview with the French weekly Journal du Dimanche. “I recall the experience of the European constitution treaty: months and months of negotiations, then ratifications, only to be rejected. We cannot wait.”
The European Central Bank could print a vast pile of euros, using them to guarantee that countries can borrow money if they need it, but that sets off German memories of 1920s-era hyperinflation and goes against the country’s abiding faith in a rock-solid currency.
Alternately, the European Union could announce that countries may borrow money with the backing of the full euro zone — “eurobonds” — putting Germany’s powerful credit on the line. But that would make Germans feel as though they were subsidizing other countries’ more generous policies, and Merkel has ruled that out until others commit to be more like Germany.