European leaders are convened on Brussels on Thursday to try, once again, to find a solution to the debt crisis that has gripped much of the continent.
This emergency summit is only the latest in a string of emergency summits.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said if a solution to fix Europe’s debt woes can’t be reached by Friday, “there are no second chances.”
After months of economic doom and gloom — punctuated by a series of “emergency summits,” it’s hard to see how the eurozone is suddenly out of “second chances.”
But on Thursday, ahead of his trip to Brussels, Sarkozy made his case.
“Never has Europe been so necessary. Never has it been in so much danger,” Sarkozy said. “Never has the risk of an explosion of Europe been so great.”
Many have argued that it’s been that way for 18-months now.
Previous summits have produced a lot of talk about how Greece’s debt will be dealt with, and how the “economic contagion” won’t spread to Italy and Spain.
Action, on the other hand, has been slow in coming — a fact German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged on Thursday.
“Words alone will not be credible anymore because time and time again we didn’t stick to our word," Merkel said. “We need more cohesion, therefore, in my view, we need treaty changes. Treaty changes in which the European institutions, especially the Commission, will have more responsibility and we will have to submit more to the ruling of the Commission than in the past, in times when member states, including Germany, watered down our rules.”
Merkel and Sarkozy are spearheading an effort to get European nations to agree to a series of measures aimed at preventing this kind of crisis from happening again.
They’re calling for tighter, more centralized, and more disciplined oversight of budgets and debt levels of eurozone countries.
They also want the ability to punish those countries that don’t comply. Some say it’s about time.
“Europe has to change ... and the institutions have to change, not the currency,” said Mathijs Bouman, a Dutch economist and author. "We avoided that for 10 years ... and now we have only a few days to fix it.”
He said the European Union’s structure is not designed to deal with this kind of economic crisis.
“I think one discussion in the White House would solve the crisis in the US,” Bouman said. “We don’t have a White House in Europe, so we have discussions every three months, slowly, slowly, slowly, and the financial markets, they don’t understand that.”
That’s why Merkel and Sarkozy’s talk of “treaty change” seems off the mark to some.
EU treaty changes might take months, even years, to be approved by the member states. But the crisis, critics say, is happening right now, and it’s having a big impact on the lives of millions of Europe’s citizens.
Economist Arjo Klamer sees a big disconnect between Europe’s tinkering politicians and its citizens.
“They feel that with the Euro they have lost their voice. Brussels is too far away. Europe is too big. And there are lots of people that feel sort of alienated from the whole process,” Klamer said.
The United States, of course, has a big stake in how the eurozone crisis plays out. The E.U. is America’s largest trading partner.
American companies, and banks, are heavily invested here.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was in Europe on Thursday for economic talks with Italy’s new Prime Minister.
But it’s not just American companies and officials who are looking on nervously. The heavy metal group Metallica recently rearranged its world tour schedule.
The band’s management pushed up European tour dates in case people have no money to rock out six months from now.
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.