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Nip/Tuck: Europe nibbles around the edges of its sovereign debt crisis

The symbol of the European common currency, the euro, stands before the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Jean Claude Trichet didn't have anything good to say about the European economy when he gave his final press conference as Chairman of the European Central bank today. Quite the opposite: He fretted that the sovereign debt crisis is dragging the Eurozone into a deepening recession.

The ECB continued to make incremental monetary policy adjustments to contain the crisis, but anyone who might have hoped for an outgoing grande geste from Trichet was disappointed. The ECB said it'll buy more debt from European banks, and provide year-long loans to financial institutions. This is aimed at preventing money markets from freezing up, leading to even more stress on Europe's financial system and, by extension, its economy. The ECB also said it'll hold the line on interest rates: Some investors were looking for an interest rate cut, but with Eurozone inflation above the 2 percent target, any action that might push more cash into the system and potentially increase inflation was unlikely.

The verdict on ECB action is that it's not enough to stem the debt crisis. What the Eurozone really needs is money to either support or bail out troubled nations. Economist Nouriel Roubini said Europe needs a "2-trillion euro bazooka" and needs it fast. So far, the amount of money made available to bail out troubled Eurozone nations is less than one quarter that amount.

Harvard Economics Proffesor, Kenneth Rogoff wrote the book "This Time it's Different" about the history of financial crises. He says Europe's bazooka could need to be 3-4 trillion euros in size - a breathtaking number, given the entire European economy is about 9-trillion euros. But Rogoff says that the real European problem isn't a lack of money, it's a lack of political unity. Getting the Eurozone nations into a monetary union is one thing. Getting them to surrender much of their sovereignty is quite another. But Rogoff says that's what it'll take: Europe needs a means to enforce strict deficit requirements on both countries and banks, something that will never happen under the current system.

Rogoff is something of a Euroskeptic: European Union has always been a "half-baked idea," he comments. He said Europeans understood going in that they needed political unity among the Eurozone countries to succeed. Their error was assuming that they'd have decades to achieve it. Now the clock has run out, a lot earlier than they expected. Rogoff says he expects this crisis will end with a dramatic shakeup in Eurozone membership. He's pretty sure Greece is on the way out, and that Portugal and Ireland could be right behind.


Also on the show today, how much did people love Steve Jobs? Enough to push his biography to the top of the Amazon bestseller list -- even though the book hasn't even been released yet. The book was rated 384 on the list yesterday, but leapt to the top after Jobs' death was announced. The news that Americans are paying tribute to the Apple founder by spending money on a good book has strengthened the Marketplace Daily Pulse today.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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