OECD pushes for $1.3 trillion eurozone crisis fund

March 27, 2012 - 5:45 AM
Belgium Europe Financial Crisis

Angel Gurria, the head of the Paris-based international development body, OECD, addresses the media in Brussels, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The 17 countries that use the euro should boost their financial buffers to at least euro 1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) to help the struggling currency union return to growth, the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The 17 countries that use the euro should boost their financial buffers to at least €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) to help the struggling currency union return to growth, the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday.

Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the Paris-based international development body, said current commitments to the rescue funds, which are limited to €500 billion ($664 billion), are not enough to restore market confidence in the eurozone.

Europe needs "the mother of all firewalls," he said at a news conference in Brussels, where he was flanked by Olli Rehn, the EU's economic affairs commissioner, who has also been pushing for a larger bailout fund.

A large, permanent bailout fund can give governments the breathing space to focus on kickstarting growth and restoring the competitiveness of their economies, Gurria said. As well as shoring up the financial defenses, Gurria pointed to a raft of economic reforms that individual countries should enact.

According to the OECD's annual report for the eurozone, which was released Tuesday, vulnerable states may need more than €1 trillion in aid over the coming two years and Gurria said eurozone finance ministers should take a decision to boost their bailout funds at their meeting in Copenhagen on Friday.

Germany, the bloc's largest economy, signaled on Monday that it would support an increase to around €700 billion ($929 billion), but only until some €200 billion in loans already promised to Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been paid back.

That falls below the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, the European Union's executive. Both organizations believe a much bigger firewall will keep a lid on the pressure on Italy and Spain, the eurozone's third- and fourth-largest economies, which have a combined debt load of more than €2.5 trillion.

"I am of the view that when you are dealing with markets you should overshoot," Gurria said.

Germany's proposal may also not be enough to convince other large non-euro economies, such as China and the U.S., to give the IMF more resources, money that could be used to further protect Europe.

Asked about the chances that Gurria's €1 trillion goal could actually be achieved on Friday, Rehn declined to give a clear answer.

"I am confident that we can reach a convincing decision," he said, adding that discussions between euro states were still ongoing.

Countries like Germany fear that easy access to financial support could stop countries from implementing reforms. They also point to the recent stabilization in financial markets. Credit for that has been given to the European Central Bank, which has pumped more than €1 trillion in cheap long-term loans into European banks.

The OECD's Gurria warned of the perils of overconfidence.

"We can still clearly not draw too much comfort from these signs of healing," he said, noting that there had been other brief moments of respite in Europe's two-year-old debt crisis.

He warned that funding costs in several euro countries remain unsustainable, and — in what appeared to be a clear reference to Spain — have been creeping up again in recent weeks.

Gurria also suggested that the ECB could intervene more aggressively in the bond markets of struggling countries if market pressures resurface — a step that the central bank has been reluctant to take so far.