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Posted on on October 4th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

 EUOBSERVER / WEEKLY AGENDA (5 – 12 October) – This week will start with a meeting of the EU’s economy and finance ministers (ECOFIN) in Luxembourg on the need for a European response to the international financial crisis, just a day after the bloc’s four biggest states – Germany, France, Britain and Italy – hold emergency talks on the subject in Paris.

The ECOFIN meeting on Tuesday (7 October) is expected to highlight the need for co-operation and cohesion among EU states on the issue, as well as the necessity of constructing a “structural response” to the crisis, rather than taking ad hoc actions.

The ministers will also underline the need to respect the so-called Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) – the rules underpinning the euro, following comments coming from some EU capitals that tackling the crisis should take priority over keeping budget deficits in line with EU rules.

“[The SGP rules] are temporarily not the priority of priorities. The priority is to save the global banking system and the savings of citizens. There is no other choice,” Henri Guaino, a close adviser of French President Nicolas Sarkozy told French television channel Canal Plus on Thursday.

The meeting – which will be preceded on Monday by a meeting of the economy and finance ministers from EU countries using the euro – will also assess the impact of the crisis on banks and insurance companies, as well as on small and medium-sized enterprises.


France believes EU-level measures may have to be cobbled together to aid banks in smaller member states, while denying rumours of a €300 billion package. But Germany has indicated it would not support any European “big-bang” deal.

“What happens if a smaller EU state is hit by a looming bank collapse? Maybe this country does not have the means to save the bank,” French finance minister Christine Lagarde told the Handelsblatt in an interview published on Thursday (2 October). “Therefore the question of a European safety net solution comes up.”

The safety package may be presented by French President Nicholas Sarkozy at a 4 October meeting between himself, the prime ministers of Germany, Italy and the UK, as well as Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet.

Reports have it that the Netherlands is the source of the €300 billion proposal. The country quickly denied this was the case.

But any suggestion of a European version of US treasury secretary Henry Paulson’s $700 billion bail-out plan for Wall Street is being stiffly resisted by Berlin. In an interview with German daily Bild, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she opposed writing “blank cheques” for banks.

“The idea of applying one solution, one big bang … is not practicable and would create new, enormous problems,” German finance ministry spokesperson Torsten Albig told reporters yesterday in Berlin. “Germany does not think much of such a plan,” he said, according to AFP.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday welcomed the approval of the package by the American Senate, which had enabled another attempt to hammer out the bill in the House of Representatives and described it as “a good step forward in the right direction.”

But after receiving negative signals from both Berlin and London on the idea of a similar emergency fund worth €300 billion for Europe’s banking sector, French president Nicolas Sarkozy distanced himself from the proposal.

A day later Sarkozy said: “I deny the sum and the principle,” according to media reports. And from Christine Lagarde’s office:   “there was an exchange of ideas but no French proposals. There was no French plan,” AFP says.

Asked by journalists about a possible EU version of the US banking rescue scheme on Thursday, the European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet – also to attend the Paris mini-summit together with commission chief Barroso – openly said it would not work for Europe. “We do not have a federal budget, so the idea that we could do the same as what is done on the other side of the Atlantic doesn’t fit with the political structure of Europe.”

Britain has suggested that solutions to the financial crisis need to be primarily sought by national authorities. “It is right that individual countries would want to take their own decisions, particularly when national taxpayers’ money is potentially at risk,” said spokesman of Gordon Brown, UK’s prime minister: “The purpose of the [Paris] meeting will be to discuss how each of the four major economies in Europe are responding to the global financial crisis,” he added, according to the BBC.

The Irish parliament on Thursday passed a bill fully guaranteeing all bank deposits, which has sparked a controversy in other European capitals about unfair advantage for Irish banks over foreign competitors.

British media reported a rising interest among Brits to switch from the UK’s to Ireland’s banks in a bid to secure their savings in a rising atmosphere of insecurity. Minister Lagarde said in a BBC live interview that better European co-ordination could prevent such cases, arguing that “a measure decided in one [EU] member state has to be shared in advance with other member states.”

EU competition spokesman Jonathan Todd said his department still hadn’t received any formal explanation from Ireland about how its bank insurance programme would work, meaning it was still uncertain whether or not the EU will even clear the Irish move as legal.

The Guardian says that Greece has followed Ireland in offering a guarantee on deposits in all banks operating in the country, after it says savers were getting restless. The paper goes on to say that it puts EU leaders in a difficult position ahead of an emergency summit in Paris on Saturday to find a common response to the crisis.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle says that on Thursday the European commission gave the go-ahead to Germany for a €35bn deal to bail out mortgage lender Hypo Real Estate.

And El País says that the EU is struggling to come up with a common response to the financial crisis, with individual member states taking unilateral action to save their own banks: the UK (Bradford and Bingley and Northern Rock), France and Belgium (Dexia), and Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Fortis).

France and Germany at odds over EU ‘Paulson Plan’ – 02.10.2008

France believes EU-level measures may have to be cobbled together to aid
banks in smaller member states, while denying rumours of a €300 billion
package. But Germany has indicated it would not support any European
“big-bang” deal.

EU big four gather for financial crisis talks – 03.10.2008

The leaders of the EU’s four biggest states – Germany, France, Britain and
Italy – are gathering for emergency talks on the financial crisis in Paris
on Saturday, one day after US lawmakers are expected to vote on an amended
bail-out plan. But France says there will be no US-type rescue package for
the EU.

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