Business

Backpackers' guide to the eurozone crisis: Brussels

  • 16 October 2011
  • From the section Business
Demonstrators in Brussels
Image caption Demonstrators on the streets of Brussels at the heart of the eurozone

Politicians attracting blame is as predictable as supermodels attracting the paparazzi and picnics attracting wasps.

But on our trip across the Eurozone, to Greece, Italy and Germany, we have been struck by the scale, breadth and intensity of the criticism of how the political classes at every level - regional, national, European - are coping with the eurozone crisis.

From those on strike in Athens, to the chief executive of Pirelli in Milan, to commuters in Frankfurt, there was a recurring sense that the political response has been confused, slow and contradictory.

So the logical final stop for our tour for Radio 5 live was Brussels, the political heart not just of the eurozone, but the European Union.

Big questions

There is no disputing the slew of summits and marathon of meetings this crisis has provoked.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has set out his action plan and said banks should set aside more assets to help guard against future losses.

The European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for a recapitalisation of European banks, harmonising national tax systems and common measures for dealing with tax fraud.

All of this poses big questions. Big questions about the future of the euro. Big questions about the future of the European Union.

And big questions about the UK's relationship with Brussels.

"There is a mood of panic and pessimism rippling through the streets of Brussels at the moment. Nobody quite knows what the answer is," the Conservative Leader in Europe, Martin Callanan MEP, told us.

Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP for the East of England, said: "The eurozone is very important because it's Britain's export market."

"The attempts there have been to introduce proper financial regulations are very important," he added, before emphasising that in his view this crisis was not just about the euro, but global in scale.

Attention switch

There is also nervousness here that Germany, seen by many as the powerhouse of Europe, might be stuttering economically, after eight think tanks projected a sharp fall in growth there.

Mr Callanan told us it was "far fetched" to assume Germany would be in a position to guarantee the debts of countries such as Greece and their "attention would switch to their own economy".

Most debates in Brussels are viewed through a single prism and this crisis appears to be no different.

Those in favour of an ever closer union argue the current turbulence is proof the binding together of European countries has not gone far enough.

Both the chief executive of Pirelli, Marco Tronchetti Provera and Stefan Schneider, the chief economist at Deutsche Bank Research, have echoed this perspective to us this week.

Even some eurosceptics in Britain accept this is likely to be necessary, for those who use the euro and are up for it. Scratch Britain out on both counts.

Others say it is proof the euro was a bad idea in the first place.

The impression we leave here with is stark.

The European Union has seen nothing like this before and seasoned observers here have no idea where this is going to end.

What most do agree on is the frenetic pace of current events is likely to leave the European Union looking rather different. But how different and in what way?

Chris Mason and Chris Brindley are travelling across the eurozone all week, reporting for Radio 5 Live, the 5 Live blog and the BBC News website. They will be reporting from Greece, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

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