As sometimes violent protests against debt-crisis austerity programs – including a general strike today in Greece – continue to wrack Southern Europe, European leaders will meet in Brussels today to try and get a grip on the economic zone's debt crisis through budgetary control and a banking union. But as usual, the summit's attendees remain divided about the best course of action.
Before she set off for the Belgian capital, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin this morning. Mrs. Merkel called for the European Union to be given the power to veto member states’ budgets. According to her plan the EU’s economics commissioner should have the right to reject national budgets if they do not conform with European rules on debt levels.
The proposal is a step towards the so-called fiscal union supported by Germany, which would see Brussels in control of tax and spending in the eurozone and possibly the wider European Union. But the idea is fiercely opposed by several EU members who don’t want to give up such essential national powers.
Acknowledging the opposition, Merkel said: “We cannot build a credible Europe if we reject every new idea. We will keep campaigning for this plan.”
It is another scuffle in the larger conflict in which those European states in need of financial aid are favoring the redistribution of debts across the eurozone, while those likely to pay the bill – namely Europe’s strongest economy, Germany – want to make sure they have enough control over the eurozone to prevent another debt crisis before they make such a commitment.
One step in this grand scheme is on the agenda in Brussels today: the banking union. The aim is to agree on joint banking supervision, with the European Central Bank (ECB) playing the lead role.
But of course there are snags. Britain – the EU's main financial center – wants safeguards to protect the powers of the Bank of England. The 10 non-euro states in the EU are concerned about voting rights in the proposed banking union. France and Germany differ over the timetable, with Paris asking to introduce the banking union as early as January 2013, and Berlin advocating caution. “Quality must trump speed,” Merkel insists.
Many in Germany view a banking union with a critical eye. “It is the next step of socializing debts,” says Hans-Werner Sinn from the Munich-based Ifo Institute of Economic Research. “First they wanted to socialize government debts by introducing eurobonds, now they even want to socialize banking debt through a banking union. It is unjust and ineffective.”
France, however, whose banks are particularly exposed to public and private sector debts from insolvent Greece, is keen on speed. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in Britain, French President Francois Hollande said there was "no time to lose" in setting up a banking union.
Still, concrete decisions are unlikely to come out of this summit. Merkel wants it to establish a “timetable for further European integration.” She hopes that by December, at the next and last EU summit of the year, this timetable should be ready to be voted upon.