Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Obama 'very engaged' in eurozone rescue talks

US President Barack Obama is "very engaged" in talks with EU leaders on the eurozone rescue, but is keeping his advice behind closed doors rather than adding to the "cacophony" of solutions floated publicly, Washington's envoy to Brussels William Kennard told reporters on Friday (2 December).

With the experience of the 2009 financial crisis, the US administration "can offer a lot of advice, but we made a point in not discussing it publicly," Kennard said.

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  • Active behind the scenes, restrained in public: Obama does not want to add to 'cacophony' of eurozone solutions (Photo: White House)

Ever since the G20 summit in Cannes last month, Obama "has been very engaged privately" on the eurozone crisis and "made many phone calls and bilateral meetings to offer his advice," the ambassador added, without wanting to go into any specifics of the solutions backed by Washington.

One of them, as reported in the financial media, is for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take a leading role in the rescue. Kennard said that the IMF option was "not part of the discussion" at an EU-US summit in Washington on Monday and Tuesday.

As to whether the international finance body is big enough to afford loans to large eurozone countries like Italy or would need extra cash from the US coffers, the ambassador said only one thing: "We feel the IMF has sufficient resources to deal with this."

With Germany still opposing the creation of eurobonds and the permission for the European Central Bank to intervene massively in helping countries like Italy and Spain borrow money from the markets, the sense of urgency was once again spelled out by Obama during his meeting with Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and commission chair Jose Manuel Barroso.

"President Obama has repeatedly said we want to see bold, quick and decisive action by EU leaders. I think European leaders would like to see the same thing, but it's a difficult political structure," the ambassador said, stressing that Europe has the resources and capacity to solve this crisis on its own.

Compared to the EU-US summit last year, which was hold for a few hours on the margins of a two-day Nato summit in Lisbon, this time the "chemistry was particularly good", the ambassador said. "It was better as it was at the White House. In Lisbon it was a little awkward, because it was nobody's turf."

It also helped that the leaders already knew each other and that their talks had "substance" - the eurozone crisis.

"President Obama said our summits are not dramatic events, because we're not trying to convince each other of our position, we take stock and strategise forward," the ambassador said, noting that in the major foreign policy dossiers the two sides of the Atlantic are on the same page, which was not the case with previous administration.

During the summit, leaders also decided to set up a working group on 'jobs and growth' which may lead to the conclusion of a free trade agreement between the EU and US, but also other areas of common rules and standards, for instance when it comes to electric cars or smart energy grids.

Kennard mentioned a possible "common regulatory approach" on nanotechnology and joint standards for inter-operable health records.

"We try to have compatible regimes, which would be good both for businesses and for consumers to have confidence in the transatlantic space," he noted.

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