EU leaders struggle to reassure markets as stocks plunge

7th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

Such measures would include the injection of liquidity by European central banks, bailouts for troubled banks and guarantees for deposits, the joint statement said.

Luxembourg -- European Union leaders will take "all the necessary steps" to ensure the stability of the bloc's financial system and protect citizens' savings, a joint statement issued on their behalf by the French presidency of the EU said Monday.

Such measures would include the injection of liquidity by European central banks, bailouts for troubled banks and guarantees for deposits, the joint statement said.

But how those measures would be applied remained in doubt as the finance ministers of the 15 countries that use the euro met in Luxembourg amidst tumbling stock markets and growing fears as to the safety of Europe's banks.

"We should try to improve the situation in the inter-bank lending markets, easing tensions that are creating difficulties for the banks that are solvent," EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said as the meeting began.

"My preference would be a common position of the different EU member states how to have an effect on this specific and difficult situation," Spanish Finance Minister Pedro Solves said.

In their unprecedented statement, the top leaders of the EU's 27 member states called for "coordination and close cooperation" in dealing with the effects of the global credit crunch.

As stock markets tumbled across Europe, eurozone finance ministers agreed there should be a European response to the crisis, instead of the state-by-state actions that have prevailed so far.

"It's extremely important that European countries use similar principles in how they treat banks in problems (sic), for example, how they intervene, what time they intervene, what policy measures they are prepared to apply," Dutch Finance Minister Wouter Bos said.

Almunia also echoed the call, saying "We should have a common approach, coordinated action, to avoid unilateral decisions that create negative spillovers."

But the decision by the German government on Sunday to offer a blanket savings guarantee to private depositors has piled the pressure on other EU member states to follow suit.

Austria, for instance, raised its guarantees on savings deposits late Sunday, just hours after the German plan was announced. Sweden and Denmark raised their guarantees on Monday morning.

About a third of the 15 EU countries that share the common currency have now moved to safeguard bank deposits in some way or other -- among them Germany, Austria, Greece, Ireland and Belgium.

That has sparked concern across Europe that the economic bloc's members are moving in different directions at different speeds.

"What concerns me is that I see different ceilings applied across Europe as to the amount of money to which the guarantee applies, and I also see a different base applied -- in one country it includes wholesale funding, in another it's only savings deposits," Bos said.

On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi revived a call for the creation of an EU-wide rescue fund -- a proposal which had already been rejected by the EU's biggest state, Germany.

"We are of the opinion that a European rescue (fund) would not be helpful," German Deputy Finance Minister Joerg Asmussen said Monday.

Solves also appeared against an EU fund similar to the 700-billion-dollar rescue package approved in the United States, pointing out that "the structure of the EU and US are totally different," but that the idea "had a certain positive impact and has to be discussed."

But as stock markets nose-dived across Europe -- with the Paris Bourse suffering its worst-ever fall of over 9 percent, the London Financial Times Share Index down close to 8 percent and Berlin's blue-chip DAX down 7 percent -- the pressure is now on for ministers to find a coordinated answer fast.

"I don't think there's going to be anything near consensus about a European fund," said Bos. "I hope there is going to be a consensus about a common approach, on principles that should be applied whenever we want to intervene or whenever we want to help banks in problems (sic).


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