Eurozone ministers take no new action on debt crisis

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Eurozone finance ministers took no extra action to quell the debt crisis at a meeting yesterday (6 December) and said they believed the existing EU debt crisis fund had enough resources to weather the threat of contagion. 

The ministers took no extra action to quell the eurozone debt crisis at the meeting, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Berlin, rebuffed calls for a bigger financial safety net or joint euro bonds.

"We don't have any new decision to announce to you," Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup countries, said after the five-hour meeting, adding that the idea of eurozone bonds was not raised.

Juncker noted that ministers had discussed Spain and Portugal and held lengthy talks with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on the general economic situation in Europe.

Recovery on the way

"As regards the economic assessment of the IMF, we probably agree on the economic outlook," said Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

"Recovery is taking hold and it is progressing but at the same time it is essential that we contain the financial bushfires so they will not turn into a Europe-wide forest fire."

Before the meeting, Strauss-Kahn had urged the ministers to increase the size of a 750 billion euro bailout mechanism for debt-stricken states and suggested the European Central Bank (ECB) step up purchases of government bonds, according to an IMF report obtained by Reuters.

Germany rebuffs eurobonds

But Germany, Europe's biggest economy, rejected any such moves and dismissed a call by two veteran finance ministers for joint euro bonds guaranteed by all governments.

"I see no need at this time to increase the fund," Merkel told a news conference in Berlin. "Only a very small percentage of it has been used."

She was supported by Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager, who said it was premature to discuss what would happen if the fund ran out of money.

Both Rehn and Juncker played down demands for immediate further steps to tackle the crisis, and the head of the crisis fund said it had enough money to deal with any more bailouts after Ireland's 85 billion euro package.

Ireland last week became the second country after Greece to require an EU/IMF financial rescue.

Some diplomats say putting more money on the table now might be interpreted as a sign that the EU is preparing for a possible bailout of Spain, the euro zone's fourth largest economy, and could increase rather than calm market volatility.

Merkel also said European Union treaty rules did not allow for issuing common bonds, which she said would reduce the element of competition and remove the interest rate incentive for fiscal good behaviour.

ECB buying out bonds

The ECB engineered a dip in the soaring borrowing costs of weaker eurozone states last week by stepping up purchases of mainly Irish and Portuguese government bonds. Figures issued yesterday showed the central bank bought 1.965 billion euros' worth of government bonds in the week to 3 December, its biggest weekly tally since the end of June.

But yield spreads of eurozone periphery countries over safe-haven German Bunds resumed their rise on Monday, as did the cost of insuring their debt against default, as investors doubted finance ministers would agree on a common approach.

Many analysts say only sustained, massive central bank bond-buying can reverse the trend.

Wide differences remain among euro area governments over how to overcome the debt crisis that threatens to spread to Portugal, Spain and possibly Italy.

Rehn said the critical issue was for Portugal, Spain and others to get their finances in check and consolidate their budgets so that no rescue would be necessary in future.

"We commended Spain for its substantive reform programme with actions on all fronts, fiscal, structural, financial," he said. "As regards Portugal, we welcome the recently passed ambitious budget for 2011 and we expect that this step will be followed by the substantiation of consolidation measures to reach the 4.6% fiscal deficit target for next year."

(EurActiv with Reuters.)

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