Euro zone struggles to stem crisis; Obama urges action

Mon Sep 26, 2011 7:57pm EDT
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By Emily Flitter and Luke Baker

NEW YORK/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro-zone officials are working to magnify the firepower of the region's rescue fund, European Central Bank policymakers said on Monday, while President Barack Obama piled on pressure for Europe to staunch a sovereign debt crisis that threatens the world economy.

Obama, saying the crisis "is scaring the world," urged leaders of the 17-nation euro zone to act quickly to help a region where banks have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and which is now suffering from the Greek government's debt crisis.

"They are trying to take responsible actions but those actions haven't been quite as quick as they need to be," Obama told a citizens' meeting in Mountain View, California.

After meeting at the IMF/World Bank and G20 meetings in Washington D.C. last week, European policymakers said on Monday they are working on ways to shore up the euro zone financial system and prevent the region's government debt crisis from spreading, but their mixed messages on the size of a rescue fund and the role of the ECB underscored the difficulties for 17 euro-zone nations in reaching consensus.

ECB Executive Board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, speaking in New York, said that the 440 billion euros in the bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS), could be used as collateral to borrow from the European Central Bank making more money available for crisis fighting, but it was up to European Union governments to decide how to do this.

"I know that people are thinking about these things. They may not be willing to admit it in the public, but they are thinking about these things," he said, citing the example of two U.S. programs used to recapitalize banks in the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Officials are examining "how to leverage the money out of the EFSF in a more innovative and efficient way," he told a conference organized by Medley Advisors.

But Germany's central banker Jens Weidmann poured scorn on a beefed-up bailout fund. Leveraging the assets could discourage politicians from taking the tough political decisions to cut budget deficits and would weaken faith in the euro, Weidmann said in Washington.   Continued...

<p>Riot police stand guard in front of the parliament during a rally against the government's new austerity measures in Athens, September 25, 2011. REUTERS/John Kolesidis</p>