Advice on Debt? Europe Suggests US Can Keep It
The United States has long been considered a financial adviser to the rest of the world. But these days, American officials come carrying baggage.
Financial officials from the United States, once called “the committee to save the world” after the Asian crisis in the 1990s, now find themselves uttering apologies for the harm caused to the world by the 2008 financial crisis and coating their advice to European nations with the knowing nod of the battle-hardened.
Photo by: Pete Souza
The change in tone was on display here on Friday when Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner made an unusual appearance at a meeting of euro zone finance ministries. Mr. Geithner had been invited to offer some advice on fixing Europe’s sovereign debt and banking problems.
European leaders, who have been slow to react to the root causes of the problem, emerged from the meeting dismissive of Mr. Geithner’s ideas and, in some cases, even of the idea that the United States was in a position to give out such pointers.
“I found it peculiar that, even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental data than the euro zone, that they tell us what we should do,” Maria Fekter, the finance minister of Austria, said after the meeting Friday morning. “I had expected that, when he tells us how he sees the world, that he would listen to what we have to say.”
Such criticism was echoed by other attendees of the meeting, including the finance minister of Belgium, Didier Reynders, who said Mr. Geithner should listen rather than talk. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the finance minister group, said European officials did not care to have detailed discussions about expanding their bailout fund “with a nonmember of the euro area.”
American officials are aware that they need to tread carefully when advising others, especially now, and they have avoided offering specific plans or proposals.
Instead, they point to recent programs in the United States simply as case studies. On Friday, Mr. Geithner, among other recommendations, encouraged the European leaders to add more firepower to their bailout funds, and described how the United States used leverage in 2008 to help bolster the markets.
The Treasury department said in a statement Friday that “Secretary Geithner encouraged his European counterparts to act decisively and to speak with one voice.” And a Treasury official said the department did not feel Mr. Geithner was rebuffed, because he did not have a specific agenda.