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It's time to act

October 27, 2011

Leaders at the EU summit have reached a comprehensive deal to combat the eurozone debt crisis. DW's Christoph Hasselbach says there is now hope the crisis is truly being tackled.


It was dubbed the summit of all summits - the ultimate solution to the eurozone crisis. In the past year and a half, we have witnessed countless crisis meetings that became more frequent as the crisis developed. Each time there was a breakthrough, however small, EU leaders thought it would convince the markets. That was followed by more meetings and more drastic measures that involved even larger amounts of money, because the markets were still not reassured.

And this time around? Rarely have expectations for an EU leaders' summit been so high. It was a long night. Leaders did agree on the recapitalization of European banks relatively quickly, but the so-called leveraging of the rescue fund - the key stumbling block in Germany in the last few days - proved a lot trickier. Negotiations really stalled when the haircut for Greece was discussed. As long as that problem wasn't cleared up, everything else leaders had agreed on was practically worthless. Only a comprehensive package tackling all the issues would do at this summit. Finally, at 3:30 a.m., it became clear that the banks had agreed to write off 50 percent of their Greek debt holdings.

Christoph Hasselbach
Christoph Hasselbach is DW's Europe CorrespondentImage: DW

And it's the bare minimum of what needs to be done to give Greece some breathing space. At the same time, it's the ultimate concession for the banks - they will not go any further. Whether the deal, ultimately, is the collective sigh of relief that everybody, including the markets, had been waiting for, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the deal, first and foremost, buys time. But that time is precious and it must be used in every member state for the thankless but urgent task of tackling and implementing reforms.

Surprisingly, it's on the issue of reforms that this double-header of a summit really delivered. On Sunday, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy lay into Silvio Berlusconi, who is known to be incorrigible, and pleaded with him to implement reforms for the good of Italy and the rest of the eurozone. And hey presto! Berlsuconi delivered plans for a pension reform three days later! Plus, Italy has pledged to reduce its debt, and Spain says it will implement a comprehensive reform program.

All that is cause for optimism. Of course, without the constant pressure from politicians and the markets, it's likely that nothing would have happened. And as soon as the situation stabilizes, the enthusiasm for reform may quickly wane.

That's why it's important to make sure that there are mechanisms in place that allow the EU to monitor and enforce reform programs. The neatest option would be to make the changes to the treaties, but that will take time. Given the seemingly endless negotiations on the Lisbon Treaty, it is a long shot and will have to remain a long-term goal for now. Now is the time for every member state to act on those reforms.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach / ng
Editor: Joanna Impey

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