Europe is braced for a crucial 48 hours of high-stakes summitry likely to decide whether Germany and France can strike a grand bargain aimed at dispelling growing pessimism over the chances of the single currency surviving in its current form.
While eurozone finance ministers are to meet on Mondayin Brussels, apparently at a loss over how to respond to political paralysis in Greece and a worsening crisis in Spain, all eyes are on François Hollande, the new French leader, who is to go to Berlin for his first face-to-face meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, as soon as he is sworn in as president on Tuesday .
Hollande, Europe’s new champion of growth policies, lines up against Merkel, the dominant cheerleader of austerity as the solution to the crisis. The German leader, increasingly isolated if inherently strong in the European contest, suffered a big setback on Sunday night, with her Christian Democrats slumping to a crushing defeat in an election in the big German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, according to German TV exit polls.
Against a background of intense volatility, Europe was pulled in opposing directions by voters, protests, and political paralysis at the weekend, deepening uncertainty over its future shape and gnawing away at the prospects for the euro‘s survival as a 17-country union.
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, and the former EU commissioner Lord Mandelson claim that the coalition government must commit with other European governments to a new growth strategy if the eurozone is to survive.