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Eurocrats Put Words Before Deeds in Greek Crisis

By David Henry
November 21, 2012 6:32 AM EST

Mark Twain once famously said to kill an adjective when you catch one, because: ``They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.'' 

European finance ministers should have heeded Twain's advice yesterday, when they tried to feign progress after the latest round of talks on relieving Greece of its debt woes. The language of the official communique only highlighted their failure to agree on how to close Greece's financing gap, further delaying the release of the next tranche of country's bailout funds. 

``The Eurogroup has had an extensive discussion and made progress in identifying a consistent package of credible initiatives aimed at making a further substantial contribution to the sustainability of Greek government debt,'' Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who was chairman of the meeting in Brussels, said in the statement. 

Extensive. Consistent. Credible. Substantial. Four adjectives in one sentence betrayed the lack of agreement among Greece's creditors in the euro area and the International Monetary Fund. After clashing with the IMF on how to rehabilitate the Hellenic nation, the group of finance chiefs managed to find common ground on only one thing: when to meet next (Nov. 26). 

``Since the questions are so complicated, we didn't come to a final agreement,'' German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said after almost 12 hours of talks. 

A second debt write-off, proposed by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in recent months, seems essential. But even that may not be enough if Greece is to remain a member of the euro area. It will take more than flowery adjectives to convince anyone that this crisis is nearing a solution. 

(David Henry is a Frankfurt-based editor for Bloomberg View.) 

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