Two leaders say they need more time on European debt

MONDAY, OCT. 24, 2011

BRUSSELS – The leaders of France and Germany said Sunday that they had made progress in bridging their differences over a wide-ranging strategy to combat Europe’s debt crisis but that the “mind-boggling technical complexity” of the task meant they needed until midweek to finish preparing their plans.

Intensive negotiations are continuing between Paris and Berlin, the two heavyweights of the European Union, over how best to increase the firepower of the EU’s $600 billion bailout fund and to reduce Greece’s staggering debt burden. The talks come amid warnings from many analysts that the region’s spiraling debt crisis is fast approaching a make-or-break point.

A comprehensive solution had originally been expected to come out of Sunday’s gathering of the leaders of all 27 EU nations here in the Belgian capital. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they would present their plan at a follow-up summit Wednesday.

“Things are forging ahead. We have yet to reach a final conclusion,” Sarkozy told reporters at a joint news conference with Merkel. “We have to take all of the decisions at one and the same time.”

The two leaders have been at bitter odds over the best way to amplify the bailout fund, which was capable of propping up small indebted nations such as Greece and Portugal but is painfully inadequate now that the bigger economies of Spain and especially Italy have been drawn toward the center of the crisis. Experts say the eurozone must bolster the fund up to four times its present size to calm jittery investors.

Merkel said their discussions have narrowed down the ways of leveraging the fund to two options. She did not elaborate on those alternatives, except to say that the European Central Bank would not be involved – a victory for Germany, which resisted France’s calls to the contrary.


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