Arguments over euro crisis fund heat up

Debate over adding firepower to the euro zone’s debt rescue funds heated up on Monday as Germany clashed with Brussels ahead of a meeting of finance ministers.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has pressed European leaders to take a decision to "reinforce" rescue funds by a February 4 summit but Euro zone paymaster Germany refuses to be rushed into it.

"Isolated proposals do not make the situation any easier, but rather more complicated," German

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Deuschlandfunk radio ahead of the ministerial meeting in Brussels.

Schaeuble reiterated Berlin's position, saying he saw "absolutely no reason in the short term to debate" increasing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) for struggling Euro zone economies.

Barroso has urged the Euro zone to move faster on the issue, calling for a decision by the summit originally aimed at discussing energy reform, and has not hesitated to tell Berlin what he thought it should be doing.

"I expect top German politicians to respect the role of the commission. We in the commission have not only the right, but also the duty, to tell Europe's citizens what we think is right," he told Germany's Spiegel magazine.

The debate has ranged from calls to double the size of bailout funds to 1.5 trillion euros ($2.0 trillion) to a proposal to allow the system to buy debt from struggling Euro zone countries in order to keep their borrowing costs down.

Germany insists that the 750-billion-euro financial safety net is large enough, saying only one-tenth has been used so far to rescue Ireland from a banking catastrophe in November.

But analysts have repeatedly warned that the funds would be too small to come to the rescue of bigger economies such as Spain, amid fears that Portugal could be next to fall into the financial abyss and drag its neighbor with it.

The safety net was created last year to protect the euro from market upheaval after Greece became the first Euro zone country to be bailed out due to its huge public deficit and debt load.

The system combines the 440-billion-euro EFSF -- a mechanism that borrows money backed by guarantees from the 17-member Euro zone -- plus 250 billion euros from the IMF and another 60 billion euros from the 27-nation EU.

But the EFSF's effective lending capacity is estimated at only 250 billion euros as the fund borrows money on the markets and, in order to secure a top rating and low interest rates, it must keep part of funds raised in reserve.

The Euro zone won some breathing room last week after Portugal and Spain successfully raised funds on the bond market, but analysts say their interest rates could still rise to levels that would require


Although German officials oppose expanding the fund, Schaeuble conceded that boosting the EFSF's effective lending capacity may be necessary.

"It is not a question of increasing or augmenting but of ensuring that the amount agreed to in May is in fact available," he said.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders wants the safety net to be doubled and said he would raise the issue at the meeting of finance ministers, although no decision is expected.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said another idea would allow the fund to buy the debt of struggling governments on the secondary market, relieving the European Central Bank from a role it has reluctantly taken.

This would allow the fund to become proactive instead of its current reactive form, said Deutsche Bank analyst Gilles Moec.

"This could help stabilizing sovereign markets before they shut down and, with purchases conducted at market rates, reduce the outstanding debt burden of the crisis-hit peripherals," he said.

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