Pounding Sand in Paris

So, what the Flemish paper De Morgen calls Europe’s koningskoppel (“royal couple,” namely Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy) met yesterday in Paris to try to find some solutions for the ongoing European euro/sovereign-debt crisis. What did they come up with?

Precious little, by most accounts. Perhaps that was the best to be expected, given how hard it is to get anything done in most parts of Europe in high summer-holiday season, and the fact that both, in effect, had terminated their own vacations early to meet.

(And no, rest assured that Chancellor Merkel does not regard such trips to the City of Light as recreational in any respect. Still, from the various photos emanating from that summit – check out for example this one from the De Morgen piece – one could even get the impression that they have become more comfortable in each other’s presence, something that was a problem before, as has been noted in this space.)

Continuing the beach theme, here’s one reaction, from Het Laatste Nieuws:

#geld Merkel en Sarkozy strooien zand in de ogen van de mensen: De plannen van de Franse president Nicolas Sarko… http://t.co/1cJEZ9c

@HLNlive

HLN Live


“Merkel and Sarkozy throw sand in people’s eyes” – but who is saying that? The HLN editors? No, that comes from former Belgian premier (now in the European Parliament) Guy Verhofstadt. He’s sort of a nerdy political guy – there’s a great shot of him in that HLN article, together with yet another shot of Merkel and Sarkozy posing happily together – but has been a prominent figure on the Belgian political scene for quite a while, and on the European level is mainly known as a convinced federalist.

What was the main thing this “royal couple” could offer the press after their meeting? It was the formation of a so-called “economic government” within the framework of the Eurozone, chaired by the President of the European Council (currently Herman van Rompuy) and meeting perhaps twice a year. But that clearly is a frequency of consultation which is way under what is appropriate. The plan also falls short on the personnel side as well – and I’m not even referring here to Van Rompuy, whom many regard as a colorless, ineffective figure. No, if there is to be an “economic government,” then it needs to be run by experts, namely by officials from the relevant Directorates General of the European Commission.

That is basically Verhofstadt’s reaction to that one-day Franco-German summit yesterday, which he is plainly putting forward with a full-court press: not only are there newspaper articles such as in HLN, but I also heard him putting forward his points in English on the BBC World Service and listened to a similar report on the local Belgian news even as I was writing this post.

Basically, to translate things into popular current American language, the “royal couple” meeting in Paris in merely “kicked the can down the road.” In so doing, they left themselves vulnerable to letting outside events take control of further developments instead. For example, they rejected the idea of “Eurobonds,” i.e. debt securities issued in the name of the EU and therefore taking advantage of German levels of interest. But, as Verhofstadt noted in that BBC interview, the next crisis around Spain/Italy will likely make them change their minds on that fairly quickly.

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