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European leaders meet in Brussels, weigh options

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Kai Ryssdal: The latest in a long, long line of summit meetings meant to fix the European debt crisis once and for all started today in Brussels. Two days of talks this time — with the immediate objects of attention being Spain and Italy and their bond yields, how much they’re having to pay to borrow. But even before things officially got started, markets all over the world made it clear they don’t think 17 different countries can find common ground.

Here’s our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

Bob Moon: It’s become a vicious cycle: Global financial markets register their panic, but calm down in the days leading up to the next all-important meeting of European leaders. Then the stubborn split between the euro nations becomes apparent, and the cycle starts anew. How long can this go on?

Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California at Berkeley.

Barry Eichengreen: The world and the markets, I think, are no longer impressed by meetings. They want to see results.

Eichengreen thinks debt-plagued European leaders are nearing their limit on borrowing time. But Douglas Elliott, who watches the European crisis for the Brookings Institution, says the politicians have become very adept at living down to expectations.

Douglas Elliott: The good news is the market is not expecting much. So I don’t think they’re going to be that disappointed when they don’t get very much. The European leaders have done an excellent job of disappointing, time and again.

At the same time, President Obama has been racheting up the pressure, warning that a recession over there could have serious spillover effects here in the U.S., and telling his European counterparts they need to act now.

Barack Obama: The sense of urgency among the leaders is clear.

But at U.C. Berkeley, professor Eichengreen isn’t so sure.

Eichengreen: The sense of urgency is very clear to the southern Europeans. The German in the street doesn’t feel the recession yet, and would have mixed feelings about the collapse of the euro.

And at Brookings, Douglas Elliott says there probably won’t be any serious action until the politicians can convince their constituencies that the other choice is disaster.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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