European Economic Crisis: Jim Flaherty Blasts EU For Dithering

Jim Flaherty

First Posted: 10/17/11 10:50 AM ET Updated: 10/19/11 04:31 PM ET

OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is not letting up on his criticism of European leaders, telling them in a blistering speech that their dithering is jeopardizing the global recovery.

The unusually frank criticism was delivered in a speech to a Dublin business audience Monday after a weekend meeting of G20 ministers in Paris ended with a pledge from European leaders to unveil a sweeping plan soon.

But the promise appeared to be short of what Flaherty thought needs to be done, however.

"A definite solution that could have been delivered before the G20 meeting this weekend in Paris has been promises by the Cannes summit (next month)," he said in notes of the address released in Ottawa.

"Quite frankly, Europe's response over the past year has been disappointing."

His disappointment grew after the speech when told Germany's finance minister had said the plan would not be unveiled during this weekend's meeting of European leaders, but would need to wait until the G20 summit in Cannes in early November.

"This situation does not improve with time,: Flaherty said. "This is not a fine wine."

North American markets also reacted negatively to the German signal, with both Toronto and New York main indexes dropping more than 100 points.

Flaherty exhibited deep frustration with how the crisis over Greek's sovereign debt and European banks' exposure has deepened in the past few months.

Canada is worried that unless Europe deals with its debt troubles, the global economy may slip back into recession.

That would lower demand for oil, copper, coal, wood and many of the resources Canada produces and sells on the global market — leading to more layoffs and a slowdown in the Canadian economy.

Flaherty said Europe had the means to contained the crisis, but instead allowed it to fester and grow. The result is that one bank, Dexia, has already needed a massive government rescue and other European banks have been put in jeopardy.

"What will it take for Europe to take decisive action and put an end to this crisis, once and for all?" he asked.

Canada, along with Britain and the U.S., have been the most vocal in the G20 in criticizing the eurozone leaders about the slowness of their response to the crisis, and the timidity of the action proposed so far.

The blunt language from Canada is somewhat out of character with the conciliatory tone the country's leaders have taken at international meetings in the past. But the Harper government believes its superior performance in during the recession and since has given it credibility on the issue.

Flaherty outlined the Canadian strengths at length during his speech — best fiscal position in the G7, most sound banking system, top global destination for business as rated by Forbes magazine.

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had heard enough from the critics. Without naming any country, she said blasted nations that are demanding bold action from her and others, while rejecting a European call for a new tax on financial firms.

But with skepticism remaining about just how effective the European plan will be once it is revealed, the criticism is likely to continue.

In his speech, Flaherty appears to come close to questioning the political courage of European leaders.

"The choices Europe must make are not easy, but governments are elected to make difficult choices," he said.

"Politicians in these countries must explain to their voters that restraint is not merely designed to please the (European Union) and the International Monetary Fund, it is necessary to save their countries from fiscal ruin."

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Filed by Ron Nurwisah  |