Euro crisis is a drawn-out mess of overlapping emergencies

Thu, Jul 12, 2012, 01:00

EUROPEAN DIARY:TWO COLLEAGUES have been told they’re seriously low on Vitamin D, a deficiency which can lead to fatigue and nasty bone ailments. The cause: sunlight deprivation.

Welcome to Europe’s endless debt saga. Sunshine is a rare enough commodity in cloudy Brussels – and a downpour follows any glorious spell. The hunch must be, however, that Vitamin D levels are at an all-time low in the euro trouble crowd.

After all, the general routine these days involves hundreds if not thousands of politicians, advisers, officials, diplomats, translators, clerks, security dudes, drivers, journalists and assorted hangers-on spending endless hours cooped up in arid buildings as people in a stuffy room try to sort out the latest incremental move. Sunshine is the luxury of wimps, clearly.

The meeting here of euro zone finance ministers on Monday night was a case in point. Nine languid hours they spent talking, before emerging bag-eyed into the dark after 2am with a 522-word statement in which they mainly reiterated the conclusions of a 14-hour dead-of-night summit meeting a fortnight ago.

These communiques increasingly resemble the notes of a bewildered doctor on an ailing patient he still hopes to save but whose illness he does not fully understand.

The latest message from the ministers was dated July 9th but it was already July 10th by the time the thing was actually released. By then, plans were already in train for another bickering session 10 days hence – and yet more unscheduled talks in early September.

When is an emergency meeting not an emergency meeting? When it’s planned eight or nine weeks in advance.

Never mind the lack of sunlight. Sleep deprivation is at work too. Exhaustion is general. A fellow reporter recounts waking up with a shudder the other night in the middle of an anarchic dream about Mario Monti, Angela Merkel and other luminaries! Say no more.

Really, it all seems faintly ridiculous.

Since the crisis began at the end of 2009, the running total of summits, ministerial meetings, central bank decisions, bilateral chitchats, big-bang negotiating sessions, gladiatorial parliamentary showdowns and no-going-back elections easily exceeds 100 and some.

We’ve lost count. Break down the rough figures and that represents at least one big political event with high-impact euro-zone ramifications every single week. True, occasional breakthroughs are made. But the relief rallies on markets are ever shorter and the insistent cavilling afterwards is a non-stop affair.

Time was the finance ministers would do the dirty work and naysaying premiers would issue strongly worded denials after the act. Now it’s the other way round. It was the finance ministers of Germany and Finland who raised questions over what was actually agreed by their leaders on summit night two weeks ago.

Yet still the squabbling continues. In the early days there were more than a few declarations of victory. No longer. Even people at the very heart of the action acknowledge they cannot say with conviction that it will all work out in the end. It might. It might not. Yet we’re all still here, eh? True, but even the language is changing. “I have a political agreement with my wife on a draft memorandum of understanding to go on holidays,” says a front-line swordsman of the anti-crisis brigade. “It concerns Spain.”

It was left unclear as to whether Spain was the actual destination or whether the country’s abundant woes are the reason he may get no further than the departure lounge.

It’s the same for many. Whispers point to a cancellation of long-awaited shore leave for experts who will plot the banking union which is supposed to save Europe and the world.

The ardent hope remains, of course, that the decision to proceed down this road represents a decisive turning point. For Ireland in particular, this has opened up a path to rework the bank rescue and give the country a fighting chance of renewal.

But there are no guarantees in this game. The only guarantee that counts is the fateful one that we have all come to regret.

This has to stop. If scientists can prove the existence of the Higgs boson, surely our political masters can plod their way out of the debt mess. If it takes the installation of 17 Large Hadron Colliders in the basement of the European Central Bank, so be it.

Last November, Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau declared that Europe had 10 days to save the euro. Now he says the crisis will go on and on for no less than 20 years. That can’t happen, of course, because none of the main protagonists could last that long for want of Vitamin D.