By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, June 18, 2012
Los Cabos, Mexico
Tensions between Europe and the rest of the G20 broke wide open in Los Cabos as the president of the European Commission laid bare his frustration with the constant lecturing from outsiders, including Canada.
The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, reacted tersely when asked to respond to recent comments from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Europe does not need outside help to stabilize its economy.
“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy and in terms of how to run an economy because the European Union has a model that we may be very proud of,” Mr. Barroso said.
He and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy answered questions Monday at the G20 summit following a news conference in which they outlined long-term plans to move toward deeper financial integration of the euro zone.
The European Commission president said his members are moving toward a banking union, including guaranteeing each other’s bank deposits. But some of these details may not be outlined until the fall and it is not clear when they will ultimately be put in place.
Still, Mr. Barroso did outline a move toward some of the specific reforms Europe has called for.
The euro zone will move toward more integrated banking oversight and a common deposit guarantee system. The European Union will also consider, “under strict conditions,” ways to package the zone’s combined debt.
“But let me be very clear, any future euro bonds or stability bonds will not be a license to spend. On the contrary, they will become a powerful tool for increased discipline and stability,” he said.
The comments from the leadership of the EU increases the heat on German Chancelor Angela Merkel, who leads Europe’s largest economy and is highly skeptical of moving quickly toward deeper integration. German leaders have expressed concern that such changes would let struggling member states off the hook from making the tough economic decisions necessary to put their nations on a sustainable track.
U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to urge Ms. Merkel to soften her stand during the two-day summit, and the President later spoke positively of their discussion Monday. After Monday evening’s G20 leaders dinner, Mr. Obama was scheduled to have a late-night meeting exclusively with European leaders.
Both the U.S. and Canada are refusing to contribute more money to the International Monetary Fund, but Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have used particularly derisive language in arguing Europeans should not get a cent of Canadian tax dollars.
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Harper said his meetings with other G20 leaders at the summit make him believe that the “great majority” of the leaders support Canada’s position. However, Canada and the U.S. are the only G20 members stating they will not contribute additional funds this week to the IMF as part of a plan to raise more than $430-billion in new commitments.
Thankfully, the European Union leadership is pushing back against the strident tone and attitude, considered arrogant in some quarters including this one, of the Canadian Prime Minister. Not only has his government refused to ante up financial support as part of an international commitment to support the failing economies in several EU states, thereby putting even more pressure on Germany, but also he has continually lectured the EU on how to "get back into line" with his prescription for fiscal discipline.
Harper happens to lead a Canadian government whose financial institutions' rules and regulations were long established prior to his even becoming Prime Minister, and while he can take national pride in the discipline and stability of Canadian banks and the Canadian economy, he and his government have done precious little by way of enhancing that performance. Taking credit, and lecturing other world leaders, while they are attempting to solve a serious crisis, even perhaps a fundamental flaw in the structure of the EU, without original common banking and monetary policies, does harm to their diligent work, and severely damages Canada's reputation among the global community.
Sometimes, and we believe this is clearly one time, Canadian Prime Ministers, even if they have something critical to say to other world leaders, ought to keep their comments private, more humble and thereby potentially more effective.
Should that lesson not be among the top five in any Prime Minister's "how to" manual, upon taking office? Clearly, Harper missed that part of the orientation package, probably deliberately.