Will Greece put Europe’s six pack on ice?

Corien Wortmann-Kool, a Dutch MEP, trekked to Luxembourg for breakfast this morning with finance ministers from her political group, the European People’s Party. The hope was that meeting over coffee and croissants might help to narrow differences between the European parliament and the member states over the sprawling “six pack” legislation, which would force eurozone countries to rein in spending and make their economies more competitive. It is one of the eurozone’s chief policy responses to a crippling debt crisis.

But the breakfast meeting yielded no breakthroughs – in part because many of the finance ministers did not turn up. After a contentious meeting to discuss the Greek debt crisis that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, they either could not rouse themselves from bed or were simply too busy.

The empty seats at the breakfast table highlighted a broader concern of Wortmann-Kool: that the Greek crisis is so consuming that there is little energy or capacity to complete the six pack, let alone anything else. “As you can imagine at the moment, Greece is the issue,” she told Brussels Blog this morning, complaining that “the decision-making power in Europe seems to be lacking.”

The six pack is billed as a long-term remedy to the excessive debts and deficits that precipitated the current crisis. But diplomats are worried that the failure to complete it this week could have some dire near-term consequences. Chiefly, it would send another worrying signal to financial markets about Europe’s resolve to tackle the crisis at a time when investors are already on edge. The legislation is also vital for Germany, in particular, to sell its voters on another plank in eurozone’s crisis response: a €500bn rescue fund dubbed the European Stability Mechanism.

As Greece smolders, time is running short: The European parliament is scheduled to vote on its six pack proposals on Thursday – the same day European leaders will gather for a Brussels summit where they were supposed to provide the final seal of approval to a compromise package. If there is no breakthrough by then, the talks could stretch into the fall, say participants, or collapse altogether.

The sticking point remains just how much say national politicians should have when it comes to fining profligate governments. Fearing that member states are incapable of ever punishing one another, parliament has insisted that the disciplinary process be as insulated as possible from political influence – a stand that Wortmann-Kool suggested this morning that she and her colleagues would not abandon. Finance ministers may have missed breakfast this morning, but one hopes they got the message.