Germany, France reach agreement on Europe's banks
BERLIN (AP) — The leaders of Germany and France, the eurozone's two biggest economies, said Sunday they have reached an agreement about how to strengthen Europe's shaky banking sector amid the region's debt crisis.
"We are determined to do the necessary to ensure the recapitalization of Europe's banks," German Chancellor Angela Merkel following talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Berlin.
A "comprehensive response" to the eurozone's debt crisis will be finalized by month's end, including a detailed plan on recapitalizing the banks, Sarkozy said at Berlin's chancellery.
"The economy needs secure financing to ensure growth. There is no prospering economy without stable banks," he said. "That is what is at stake."
However, both leaders declined to name a price tag for the new measures or elaborate further, saying the proposal must first be discussed with other European leaders.
Analysts have urged the eurozone to identify all the banks in the region that need to replenish their capital reserves, then decide whether to compel them to raise that money on the open markets and to provide government financing to the ones that can't.
Many experts say the capital cushions of many European banks must be strengthened in order to withstand a possible government bond default by Greece. Some analysts fear that a Greek default could cause a severe credit squeeze that would even threaten banks not exposed directly to Greece's debt because banks could be afraid to lend to each other.
The credit freeze following the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 choked off lending to the wider economy and caused a deep recession.
Merkel did not provide details Sunday about how the recapitalization would work, saying only that all banks across the eurozone would be measured by the same criteria in coordination with, among others, the European Banking Authority and the International Monetary Fund.
Any solution must be "sustainable," Merkel added.
Sarkozy said the French-German accord on the proposal "is total."
Germany and France will now submit their proposal to shore up Europe's shaky banking sector to other European Union governments ahead of an Oct. 17-18 summit of the bloc's 27 leaders in Brussels, they said.
Both leaders expressed confidence that a comprehensive European response to the crisis will be finalized before a summit of the G-20 most developed nations in France Nov. 3-4.
"The global economy needs this summit to become a success, and the European Union will do its part" to ensure a positive outcome, Merkel said.
The IMF has said banks across the continent might need up to euro200 billion ($267 billion) in new capital. The EU disputes the IMF's estimate, but has warned that lending between banks and from banks to businesses is threatening to freeze up.
Earlier this week, Merkel said that banks must first seek to raise new capital on the market before turning to their government, insisting that the eurozone's newly strengthened euro440 billion ($590 billion) bailout fund would then only serve as a backstop if a member state can't cope with shoring up its banks' capital.
France, however, was reported to favor turning to the fund's resources right away instead of relying on a national facility to re-capitalize its banks — who are among the biggest holders of Greek bonds.
But Sarkozy sought on Sunday to dispel the notion of different approaches regarding the European Financial Stability Facility, saying "there are no disagreements."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his French counterpart, Francois Baroin, also took part in the two leaders' discussions.
Merkel and Sarkozy were set to have a working dinner following the news conference they gave at the chancellery.
Germany and France, which together represent about half of the 17-nation currency zone's economic output, regularly hold talks before EU summits to chart out joint positions.
The implosion of Belgian lender Dexia following its sizable exposure to Greek and other eurozone sovereign debt, meanwhile, added a sense of urgency to the talks.
France, Belgium and Luxembourg announced Sunday they had approved a plan for the future of the embattled bank, but they offered no details. France and Belgium became part owners of the bank during a euro6 billion ($7.8 billion) 2008 bailout.
While an all-out Greek default appears unlikely, bondholders might still face severe losses, with some analysts maintaining that Greece's debt must be cut by about 50 percent or more to attain a sustainable level.
Private bondholders agreed in July to take about a 20 percent cut on their holdings of Greek bonds as their participation in a second international euro109 billion bailout for the country.
But Finance Minister Schaeuble on Sunday joined Merkel and other eurozone officials in hinting that the agreement might have to be renegotiated.
"It is possible that we have so far assumed an insufficient percentage of debt reduction," he told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Such a move will be discussed after the so-called troika of Greece's international creditors — European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF — submits its next progress report later this month, Schaeuble was quoted as saying.
Greece is currently struggling to meet budget and reform targets, but it needs an over all positive progress assessment by the troika to qualify for the next euro8 billion ($11 billion) installment of its euro110 billion package of international bailout loans to avoid bankruptcy.
Greg Keller in Paris contributed reporting.