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Obama Pushes EU Officials To Act On Debt Crisis

U.S. President Barack Obama (center) speaks following a summit with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (left) and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso (right).
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has pushed visiting EU officials to take bold action in the face of the eurozone’s mounting debt crisis.

Speaking alongside European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy at the conclusion of the US-EU summit on November 28, Obama did not specify what actions he had urged, although he did pledge U.S. help.

"I communicated to [Barroso and Van Rompuy] that the United States stands ready to do our part to help them resolve this issue. This is of huge importance to our own economy. If Europe is contracting or if Europe is having difficulties, it's much more difficult for us to create good jobs here at home," he said.

Discussions were likely more direct behind closed doors, however.

William Kennard, US ambassador to the European Union, told news agencies, “The president has made clear repeatedly and he did so today, that he would like to see bolder, quicker, more decisive action by European leaders."

"We have gotten into detail in private conversation about what that might entail," he said.

Barroso also provided a glimpse of the private conversations when he said that Europe was indeed taking action on its debt crisis, but that such decisions cannot be rushed.

"We are absolutely serious about the magnitude of the challenge, we understand the challenge, but you have to understand that sometimes some decisions take time," said Barroso.

"But we are [going] in that direction and we are, in fact, taking strong measures for unprecedented situations."

For his part, Van Rompuy said that in response to Europe’s sovereign debt crises, the European Union had “taken decisions that were unthinkable just a year ago.”

He said that all EU countries are working to reform their economies, but conceded, “we have to do more.”

The European Council president also said leaders would take up more ambitious reform proposals at next month’s European Union summit, including one of his own.

"[On] the 9th of December I will present to the heads of state and government a roadmap on how to strengthen the economic union of the euro area commensurate with our monetary union. We are aiming for binding rules to ensure strong fiscal and economic discipline in all countries to go hand-in-hand with fiscal and economic integration -- not only disciple, but also integration -- in the euro area as a whole," he said.

Brussels is fighting to save debt-strapped economies like Greece and in order to prevent the contagion from spreading to larger countries like Italy and Spain.

In the hours ahead of the U.S.-EU meetings, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) deemed the eurozone to be in a mild recession and threatening the global economy.

In a new report, the OECD said the eurozone debt crisis "represents the key risk to the world economy at present" and warned that a "major negative event" -- an apparent reference to the possibility of one or more countries leaving the eurozone -- risks sending the U.S., Japan, and other advanced economies into recession.

The EU is currently seeking more funding for its bailout vehicle, the 440 billion euro European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in which the United States holds the largest voting block, has so far been reluctant to invest more money into the EFSF.

Despite Obama’s pledge of support today, he did not specify whether Washington would be open to the investment -- unlikely amid the United States’ own budget woes and as economic fears look to dominate the 2012 election season.

No breakthroughs had been expected from today’s summit, but Obama was expected
to press Barroso and Rompuy hard about the EU's response to the crisis.

However, Washington's moral standing on the issue has also been called into question by its failure to make its own tough political decisions needed to fix its bulging deficit.

A joint statement issued by the two sides after Monday's summit said, "the EU looks forward to U.S. action on medium term fiscal consolidation."

While Europe’s financial woes dominated the summit, talks were wide-ranging.

Joined by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the leaders took up the potential for new EU sanctions on Iran and worrying signs from the EU’s eastern neighbors.

Obama said there was agreement to continue pressuring Iran over its rogue nuclear program, while continuing to leave room for diplomacy.

"We agreed to make sure that we continue to place pressure on the Iranian regime to stand down when it comes to the development of nuclear weapons, emphasizing that we continue to hope for a diplomatic resolution that allows them to use peaceful nuclear energy in a way that's consistent with their international obligations," Obama said.

Van Rompuy said the EU was preparing to levy a new set of sanctions on Tehran.

The bloc is expected to add 191 individuals and entities to its sanction list when European foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU has already blacklisted 35 individuals and 215 entities associated with Iran's nuclear activities.

Last week, in response to a damning report by the International Atomic Energy Agengy (IAEA), the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada unveiled tough new measures to pressure the Islamic Republic, with Britain cutting off all relations with the country’s banking sector.

France has suggested a wider import ban on Iranian oil, an idea that Ashton and Clinton were expected to discuss today.

Belarus and Ukraine were also on the agenda for today’s talks, with both Obama and Van Rompuy expressing concern at deteriorations in freedoms and rule of law.

Van Rompuy referred to the case against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as “politicized justice."

"We share the strong concern about the latest signs of politicized justice in Ukraine. The democratic aspiration of [the] Belarusian people also needs to be met," he said.

Political transformations in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as integration of the Balkans into EU structures, were also discussed.

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