Peter Hoskin

On the road to break-up?

On the road to break-up?
Text settings

Before we plunge into the Autumn Statement, we really ought to mention the poison cloud hanging over Brussels today. European finance ministers, including George Osborne, are meeting there later — and it's certainly not going to be good for their collective health. Klaus Regling, the head of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), is expected to tell them that there's basically no chance of them boosting the bailout fund to €1 trillion in the near future, as was promised at the end of last month. Back then, David Cameron urged eurozone leaders to bring a ‘big bazooka’ to the fight. They have barely managed a cap gun.

This is far from surprising. Even when the expansion of the fund to €1 trillion was first announced, it had a whiff of fantasy about it. It wasn't a solid achievement, you see, but a target — and meeting that target depended heavily upon the goodwill of the Chinese, and other eastern countries, in buying up European debt. They haven't stumped up, so the fund is still languishing some distance short of €1 trillion mark. Many economists reckon that, even if the mark were reached, it still wouldn't be enough to keep Italy afloat, let alone limit any spillage across the rest of Europe.

So what now? The finance ministers will today tweak how the EFSF operates, to make it easier for it to raise and deliver cash. They will also, no doubt, keep extending the begging bowl towards Beijing. But they will also know that they need to rustle up some alternatives. Hence the pressure being exerted on Germany to allow the ECB to take a more active role in buying up European bonds; pressure that Berlin is, so far, resisting. Little wonder that more and more observers are predicting a break-up for the euro.