With good reason the eurozone’s political leaders have been criticised for reacting too slowly to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. But what’s new about that? Slowness often seems to be a defining feature of Europe’s approach to policymaking.
Consider the proposals that are in the air for the creation of a European Monetary Fund to manage Greek-style crises in the future. There is widespread support for such a fund, ranging from the European Commission to Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s centre-right finance minister, and socialists in the European Parliament.
The European Union is often derided for policy confusion and speaking with a multitude of voices – but sometimes it’s not the EU’s fault, it’s the fault of one of the member-states. Take the idea of setting up a European Monetary Fund. This emerged as a serious possibility for the first time when Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, offered support for it in an interview last weekend with Welt am Sonntag.
Within a couple of days, however, Germany’s two most important central bankers – Axel Weber, the Bundesbank president, and Jürgen Stark, an executive board member of the European Central Bank – had distanced themselves from the idea. Even more confusingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel chipped in with the remark that it wouldn’t be possible to set up a European Monetary Fund without changes to the EU’s governing treaty. As she well knows, after the agonising experiences first with the EU’s failed constitutional treaty and then with the Lisbon treaty (which finally came into force in December), there is next to no appetite for such changes among the EU’s 27 governments.