The Telegraph: Eurozone summit – despair and backbiting in the corridors of power
Just when the eurozone governments thought it could not get worse for Europe’s single currency, it did.
Shell-shocked EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Saturday were already reeling from the worst Franco-German rift for over 20 years and a fractious failure to resolve the problems that have brought Greece, and the euro, close to the brink.
But then a new bombshell hit as a joint report by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that, without a default, the Greek debt crisis alone could swallow the eurozone’s entire €440 billion bailout fund – leaving nothing to spare to help the affected banks of Italy, Spain or France.
An EU already rocked by divisions between France and Germany over how to increase the “firepower” of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in order to save the wider eurozone from Greek contagion now faced the prospect of losing it all in one go.
As dark-suited finance ministers contemplated the pains au chocolat laid out on their desks alongside their talking points and position papers, Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, told colleagues: “We’ve got to get real. People are talking about new defences but with one gulp the whole €440 billion could be gone, leaving the eurozone with no protection at all.”
Compounding the trauma, Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister turned IMF chief – and one of the few key players who appeared to be enjoying herself in her new headmistress-like role – issued a grim warning to her former European peers.
The IMF would no longer be willing to pick up a third of the total bill for rescuing Greece, a contribution worth €73 billion, unless European banks were prepared to write off 50 per cent of Greek debt.
“It was grim. The worst mood I have ever seen, a complete mess,” said one eurozone finance minister.