Welcome to a live blog of events in Brussels as European leaders meet for a second day to discuss how far and fast to push integration of fiscal and economic systems in the 27-country bloc. Ben Fenton in London is watching.
14.46: And that seems an appropriately grim note on which to end live-blog coverage of the EU council summit, a meeting of which few had high expectations and yet most observers seem still to have come away disappointed.
Until next time.
14.34: Courtesy of Reuters, we have a jolly Christmas message from Chancellor Merkel:
“One reason I am careful with my forecasts is the adjustment process, the changes that we are going through are very difficult and painful.”
“Next year, and the ECB president said this, we will have very low growth rates, we will see negative growth in some countries, and we can expect very high unemployment levels to continue.”
“On the one hand we have accomplished a lot. But we also have tough times ahead of us that can’t be solved with one big step. There has been lots of talk about the one step, whether it be a debt haircut, euro bonds or some other measure that will solve everything. That won’t be the case.”
Welcome to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. We’ll bring you all the developments. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton in London with contributions from FT correspondents across the world. All times are GMT.
17.37: As the EU’s political leaders get down to talks, we are closing down the live blog for today, but it will be up again bright and early tomorrow to pick up on whatever is decided overnight. Meanwhile, elsewhere on FT.com you’ll be able to find coverage of the summit kept fresh by our sleep-deprived Brussels team.
17.29 More bleak news for the UK’s Triple A credit rating, via FT markets editor Chris Adams:
Sterling tumbling on reports S&P has put UK AAA on negative outlook
17.24 More twists and turns in this tale of what said what to whom about the Italian elections at the centre-right EPP’s pre-summit meeting today (see 15.49 and 17.06).
Antonio Tajani, the Italian EU commissioner and a Berlusconi ally, is quoted by Italian news agency Adnkronos as saying that none of the leaders of the EPP “expressly asked Monti to be a candidate”.
“Everyone spoke well of Monti but no one wants to interfere.”
José Manuel Barroso (R), who is set to unveil plans for a "banking union" on September 12, shown here in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in June.
In times of crisis, a fast-forward button can be pressed on decisions that would usually take years of discussion and planning. So it is with the creation of a European ‘banking union’, which analysts at the Bruegel thinktank describe as an endeavour “in some respects no less ambitious and complex than the creation of monetary union itself”. The aim is to brace eurozone banks against future shocks by bringing them under a common regulatory and supervisory structure, introducing common deposit insurance and a shared system for crisis resolution. In June, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told the FT he’d like to enact a banking union as soon as 2013. But is that really feasible? And what hurdles stand in the way? Read more
The answer is “not Tobin”, no matter what this might seem. The Tobin tax is specifically a tax on foreign exchange transactions, originally designed to damp down movements in a notoriously volatile market rather than to raise money. Campaigners for a Financial Transactions Tax(FTT) have sensibly switched attention from said currency tax – which, given the lack of regulation of FX trading, is susceptible to traders simply switching jurisdictions – to levies on bonds and equities sales. Bill Gates, who was asked to look into this issue for the G20, sounds like he will be in favour of something similar, together with eminently sensible ideas such as raising tobacco taxes in developing countries and levies on shipping and airline fuel.
That said, the EU FTT doesn’t look particularly workable – and I’ve even heard rumours it was made deliberately so by sceptical Commission officials trying to sabotage it from within. A tax on transactions in a particular exchange, if it can’t be bypassed, makes perfect sense at least as a money-raising device. The UK, despite its continual whingeing and mewling about an FTT, has taxed British stock transactions through Stamp Duty for a very long time – and added a new version to cope with sales of uncertificated stock. A levy based on the tax residency of the investor looks more difficult to implement, as it is subject to the usual shifting of registration offshore. Read more
When the European Union works well, the co-operation of three crucial partners is vital: France, Germany and the European Commission. It was the alliance of the Franco-German couple, allied to a powerful commission president in the shape of Jacques Delors, that led to the creation of a single European currency.
So it is a sign of the huge disarray at the heart of the European Union that the current president of the commission, José Manuel Barroso, is feuding openly with the German government. Even a few years ago, this would have been unthinkable. But now Barroso is calling German plans to re-open the Lisbon Treaty “naive”, criticising Germany for being too slow to act on the Greek bail-out, and pointedly reminding the Germans that the euro was all their idea in the first place. German ministers, meanwhile, have responded with even more aggressive language – openly calling Barroso’s charges “absurd”. Privately, top officials in Berlin have been cruelly dismissive of the commission president for months, accusing him of grovelling to secure his re-appointment. Read more