Osborne to euro nations: Patience is ‘running out’
By Howard Schneider,
United Kingdom treasury chief George Osborne said Friday that the world’s “patience has been running out” with leaders of the 17-nation euro zone as pressure mounts on them to contain the region’s financial problems.
At a meeting of major nations Thursday night, Osborne said, euro-zone leaders were pressed to take major steps to bolster the continent’s economic health by the time the Group of 20 top economic powers gathers in France in early November.
Osborne’s comments come amid a growing recognition that the euro zone’s problems are what he called the “epicenter” of a potential global financial crisis. World officials gathered in Washington this week for meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have uniformly cautioned about the risks of a new recession at a time when governments and central banks have little money and fewer and fewer tools with which to respond.
International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde was just as blunt Friday during her opening address at the meetings: “We have entered what I have called a dangerous new phase.”
Lagarde aimed her message at top economic nations, saying they needed to come to agreement on more accommodative fiscal and monetary policy, with central banks “ready to dive back into unconventional waters.” She urged them to use regulations to stave off financial crises and taxpayer bailouts. And she said that in order to boost growth, advanced economies must focus more on structural reforms and the labor market.
The euro-zone nations have not yet implemented a July 21 agreement that would allow a new bailout fund to begin supporting weaker nations and providing fresh capital for banks. The delay and uncertainty about whether the bailout fund will be adequate to fix the euro’s problems have contributed to recent volatility in stock markets and a flight of capital away from European banks.
A communique from the G-20 issued late Thursday night, Osborne said, was meant to make clear that wrangling over details of the agreement must stop and that Europe and the European Central Bank should commit whatever money is needed to convince markets that governments and major financial institutions in Europe won’t fail.
“Time is running out,” if the euro area is to keep its debt problems and weakened banking system from growing into a larger crisis, Osborne said in a morning briefing. “There is a clear sense that more needs to be done to avoid a disorderly outcome.”
Thursday night’s G-20 statement included what Osborne referred to as a “clear deadline” to put the July 21 agreement into operation in early November. It also made references to possible changes in the agreement that could boost the amount of money the fund would be able to deploy to larger governments such as Spain or Italy or to support a broad recapitalization of Europe’s banking system.
“The euro area will have implemented by the time of our next meeting the necessary actions to increase the flexibility of the [European Financial Stability Facility] and to maximize its impact,” the communique said.
Major euro-area nations Germany, France and Italy, as well as the 27-member European Union, are part of the G-20. As host of the group this year, France would have a particular stake in meeting the deadline. U.S. officials were also at the session but have not spoken publicly about the outcome.
Implementation of the agreement, which includes major new aid for Greece as well, has been slowed as each of the 17 national parliaments of the euro-zone countries must approve it. Unexpected side issues, such as Finland’s demand for Greece to post collateral for new bailout loans, have also complicated the discussion.
Osborne, noting that the United Kingdom chose not to join the euro precisely to avoid the types of problems confronting the common currency, said the euro-zone leaders were told clearly by the other G-20 members — including the United States and China — that they have to solve their disagreements and make decisions that stick.
“Bad politics is leading to bad economics,” Osborne said.