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Germany, France moot tougher EU budget rules

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to a working lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Dec. 5, 2011, where they would propose amending the European Union treaty to impose budget discipline on spendthrift countries.

Kai Ryssdal: This is the week that Europe gets its debt-mess-thing all figured out. No, really, they promise.

France and Germany agreed today that they would start drafting a new treaty, one that forces European Union members to be more disciplined and punishes countries that aren't. Part of the goal is to calm the markets, which have been trashing European bonds.

Another part of the goal is to just be done with this thing. Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore reports.


Heidi Moore: For a few hours this morning, the world was happy with a rare burst of action across the Atlantic. France and Germany proposed a plan to draw Europe closer financially. They want to change the European Union treaty so that countries control their spending or face fines.

Italy and Ireland suggested their own austerity measures today. It's all a buildup to a European summit this week designed to resolve the continent's debt crisis.

Lorcan Roche Kelly: I personally call it Hell Week.

That's Lorcan Roche Kelly, with Trend Macrolytics. And that was before the news that Standard & Poor's put 15 eurozone countries on notice that it may cut their credit ratings. That adds pressure on European leaders: They need a road map by Friday.

Roche Kelly: If they try to produce a fudge on Friday evening, it will not be a good day to hold any European exposure the next Monday.

France and Germany want to rewrite the European treaty by March. Then every country would have to approve it, and that could take a year –- if at all.

Kathy Jones is with Charles Schwab. She wonders whether a new treaty would be any more effective at restraining government spending than the current one.

Kathy Jones: The question, I think, in the marketplace will be: Are there really enforcement mechanisms in place? Keep in mind that there's already a treaty, that already specifies that budget deficits should not be more than 3% of GDP, and everyone violated it early on.

So why should we believe European leaders now?

Jones: Because they really really mean it this time? Pinky swear?

For now, that's all we've got to go on.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.
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How would fining a country that doesn't have money in the first place help?

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