Europe’s challenges in stemming the debt crisis were underscored by snags over collateral to underpin Greece’s rescue loans and German objections to altering European treaties.
European finance officials are unlikely to reach a collateral deal today in their monthly meeting to clear the way for Greece’s next 109 billion-euro ($151 billion) package, Finnish Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen said.
“We’re going to negotiate about it, but unfortunately I don’t see that we can find a solution” today, Urpilainen told reporters before a meeting of European finance ministers in Wroclaw, Poland.
After a call to action last night by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, the 17 euro finance ministers were braced for a dressing-down from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, invited to the gathering by the host Polish government.
The stewards of the 9.5 trillion-euro economy must “do more to earn the confidence of the world, that they have the political will to do this,” Geithner said on Sept. 14.
A press conference is scheduled for 12 p.m. after a breakfast meeting of euro-area ministers. Meetings of all 27 European Union finance ministers and central bankers follow in the afternoon and tomorrow morning.
Eighteen months of crisis-fighting and 256 billion euros in aid for Greece, Ireland and Portugal have failed to stabilize markets. The turmoil has spread to Italy and Spain, sending tremors through Europe’s banking system and leading to speculation that a currency meant to be permanent might break up.
Finland’s insistence on collateral -- potentially in the form of shares in nationalized Greek banks or real estate -- looms as an example of the national quibbles that have frayed the crisis response.
Crisis management has to be guided by Europe’s current rulebook, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said, playing down the prospect of bolder steps such as the issuance of common bonds or creation of a European finance ministry.
“We have to solve the problems on the basis of existing treaties,” Schaeuble said on his way in to the meeting. “Treaty changes take time and until then we’ll solve problems as we have agreed to do.”
The debt overhang is taking its toll on the wider economy, the European Commission said yesterday. It cut its growth forecast to 0.2 percent for the third quarter and 0.1 percent in the fourth, down from projections of 0.4 percent for both periods.
“What the markets want is a clear roadmap for the future of the euro zone,” Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital in London, told Bloomberg Television’s Tom Keene. “That is precisely what they are not getting at the moment. They need to see Berlin and Paris lead the way and say by 2015, we aim at a fiscal union for the euro area.”
Trichet said yesterday the ministers need to show the same “unity of purpose” as central banks did yesterday in providing extra dollars to European lenders bruised by the crisis that has seeped from Europe’s edges to its core.
The ECB joined other major central banks in offering a series of three-month dollar loans to ease a liquidity crunch that had confronted European banks with the highest costs for obtaining the U.S. currency in almost three years.
The ECB’s move and a Sept. 14 pledge by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to keep Greece in the euro and prevent a default gave a lift to markets. European stocks extended a rally into a fourth day today. The euro slipped to $1.3817 from $1.3877, while remaining on track for a weekly gain.
Fresh from a conference call with Merkel and Sarkozy, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday promised a “decisive battle” for budget cuts to persuade European governments and the International Monetary Fund to release an 8 billion-euro loan installment later this month.
While Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said she is “very confident” that Greece will get the previously promised installment, the IMF refused to commit.
“Implement and you get the next payment,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on CNBC yesterday. “Time is running short and the Greek authorities have to deliver.”