Following her colleague David Martin’s post on a similar subject a couple of months ago, Catherine Stihler MEP takes a fresh look at the Eurozone crisis and wonders if there’s a little of an Aesop’s Fable in the story…

The crisis in the eurozone reminds me of the story of the hare and the tortoise. The European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Oli Rehn, spoke about the millisecond decision making of financial markets compared to the months of lengthy negotiating which takes place between those involved in the euro-crisis decision making. Democracy works differently from the financial markets. The speedy hare of the financial markets is pitted against the democratic tortoise of European institutions.

The 21st July meeting of eurozone national governments which was heralded as setting in place a new Marshall Plan for Greece was quickly followed not by implementation of the decisions made, but by another crisis in the eurozone this time with Spain and Italy taking centre stage. If it had not been for the quick intervention of the European Central Bank (ECB) this turbulence would have resulted in a hurricane across not just the eurozone but the whole of the European Union and world. Although the August fall in financial markets was tough with the credit downgrade of the USA, how worse would it have been if there had been a sovereign default? Lehman brothers was bad, a country going under would be much worse.

Currently national governments are attempting to implement the decisions made in July concerning the funding of the European Financial Stability Framework and their commitments to funding the sovereign bailouts. Yet the solidarity that is required across the eurozone and European Union as a whole is weak if non existant. Finland, seen as a democratic beacon, a progressive small country home of Nokia and the Moomins, is becoming deeply eurosceptic with their equivalent of UKIP doing well in their recent elections. This prevailing undercurrent has led to Finland seeking it’s own assurances with Greece bilaterally asking for direct Greek collateral in exchange for Finnish taxpayers money. What this amounts to is around 40% of Finland’s share of the loan, around half a billion euros. This would be invested in low risk state bonds. Now Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia are asking for similar assurances from Greece. How could an agreement in the eurozone from the 21st July now be unpicked by Finland? Does this not contradict the principle of equal treatment of all euro countries? Is Finland just exercising its democratic right as a nation or is this populist nationalist agenda neglecting the greater good of the whole of Europe not just the eurozone?

The German Parliament will have a vote on the bailout on the 7th September and Angela Merkel’s coalition looks divided on the subject. In Germany the ruling of their constitutional court on the legalities of the bailout could place a spanner in the works. The bilateral meetings between France and Germany does nothing to promote eurozone solidarity. It is no wonder within this eurozone culture of bilateralism, that European leadership is being questioned. Who is caring for the European good? United we stand, divided we fall.

One aspect of this has been the plethora of individuals who hold responsibility for European economic policy. Is it the Commission, the Council, just those in the eurozone, individual nation states or the broader European Union? Decisions made in the eurozone impact directly on those who are not members of the eurozone. How do Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland see their place in these discussions? As the Polish Finance Minister described, a collapse of the eurozone would be catastrophic for those non- members and we should not kid ourselves that this would be otherwise. One idea which is being touted is that just as we have a High Representative for Foreign Affairs who overseas the European coordination across institutions, so too there should be an Economic High Representative who can transcend nationalists agendas and act on behalf of the European good. One person with one policy area results in less confusion and clearer decision making providing the leadership which is so lacking.

The crisis in the eurozone is real and dangerous to all, members and non- members alike. Without stability, the growth we need across the European Union to create jobs and support our public services, will be jeopardised. The need to consider the long term,to be democratically accountable but also honest about the future is essential. Already growth forecasts are being downgraded across the Western world and this combined with austerity measures cutting public spending has the potential to ruin the economic recovery which is already fragile. The tortoise of European democratic decision making has to succeed to solve the euro-zone crisis. The race is on and currently the winner is uncertain.

You can also follow Catherine Stihler MEP on Twitter @C_Stihler_MEP.