Quest: Why survival of the eurozone depends on leaders spinning plates

Europe's leaders -- like Jose Manuel Barroso, Mario Draghi and Angela Merkel -- are spinning plates as they try to solve crisis

Story highlights

  • CNN's Richard Quest: I often think of European officials as the proverbial "plate spinners"
  • The plates are Greece, Spanish banks, Italian deficits, eurobonds, and Merkel
  • Some plates are always spinning, while others need sudden attention
  • But it is the skill of the artists that matter -- and they show no sign of bringing act to close

I have often thought of European officials as the proverbial "plate spinners" from the circus. Those talented artists who balance spinning plates on sticks, ever increasing the number of sticks, rushing from one to the other, giving them a tug and pull to keep them moving, always aware that if they are too slow or too fast, one of the plates will crash to the ground.

That is exactly what we have in Europe today. Only the artists are European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso et al, while the plates are Greece, Spanish banks, Italian deficits, eurobonds and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Two weeks ago it was the Spanish banks which were wobbling -- but a quick tug and push worth €100 billion kept the plate moving. Before that it was the Irish referendum on the fiscal compact.....then it was the Greek election....and the artists now have to stand ready to renegotiate the bailout terms to give Greece breathing room (after giving a tug to the Merkel plate to prevent her falling off in pique).

Germany: Is it really the villain?

There are some plates that are always spinning: Getting the fiscal compact ratified; the size and strength of the eurozone firewall; the ever present problem of countries in recession. These plates always need attention. But then they are often joined by more plates: The Irish referendum on the compact; the Greek de facto election on the euro.

And then there are the plates that suddenly and urgently require immediate attention to prevent a spill. Spanish bond yields are giving great cause for concern. Oh, and don't forget Italian bond yields. And the European bailout fund needs some attention -- there -- and while you are over there put another plate on a stick, this time call it banking union and get that moving.

Has stability returned to Greece?
Has stability returned to Greece?


    Has stability returned to Greece?


Has stability returned to Greece? 01:14

Family tragedy tells country's story

Greece: After the Election
Greece: After the Election


    Greece: After the Election


Greece: After the Election 05:04

Sometimes there are so many plates spinning it is difficult to see which one requires the most immediate attention. Is it Spain's banks which have just been promised a huge wodge of cash? Or the French and German banks which will suffer losses if Spanish banks fail? Perhaps it is the German government's intransigence?

Of course, what is really important is neither the number nor nature of the plates that are spinning, but rather the competence and ability of the plate spinner. When you watch at the circus, you are not watching the plates, but the artist who is rushing from one to the other -- wondering if they will make it in time to avert a crash.

Human cost of Greek crisis

The artists are the European leaders, both at national and European Union level. How good are Messrs Van Rompuy, European council president, and his fellow spinners Barroso, Draghi and Juncker at keeping things going -- along with help from Christine Lagarde, at the International Monetary Fund, and others?

Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell
Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell


    Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell


Tsipras: Austerity will send us to hell 01:20

The spinners have given us some heart stopping moments, such as when it looked like they would stare down Greece into leaving the euro, or in midnight summits when they seemed unlikely to reach a deal.

Greek parents forced to give up children
Greek parents forced to give up children


    Greek parents forced to give up children


Greek parents forced to give up children 02:35

But the sad fact is that while they are keeping the plates spinning, they are doing very little to actually safely remove any of the plates from the stick and bring the act to a close.

Rise and fall of euro

Daily it seems there are more plates spinning, and the antics of the spinners becomes more frantic as they rush from one to the other, ever proclaiming that the act is coming to a close.

Unfortunately that is not the case. The plate spinning is likely to continue for some time to come. We all need to hope that this is one act that has the stamina and ability to get to the end.

      Europe's financial crisis

    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on June 25, 2013 in Berlin.

      Schaeuble: 'Don't see' bailouts

      German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
    • IBIZA, SPAIN - AUGUST 21:  A man dives into the sea in Cala Salada beach on August 21, 2013 in Ibiza, Spain. The small island of Ibiza lies within the Balearics islands, off the coast of Spain. For many years Ibiza has had a reputation as a party destination. Each year thousands of young people gather to enjoy not only the hot weather and the beaches but also the array of clubs with international DJ's playing to vast audiences. Ibiza has also gained a reputation for drugs and concerns are now growing that the taking and trafficking of drugs is spiralling out of control.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

      Spain keeps partying

      Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
    • The Euro logo is seen in front of the European Central bank ECB prior to the press conference following the meeting of the Governing Council in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, on April 4, 2013.

      OECD: Slow recovery for Europe

      The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
    • The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

      Europe's new threat: Slow decay

      The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
    • Packed beaches and Brit pubs? Not necessarily. Here's what drew travelers to one of Spain's most beautiful regions in the first place

      Spain aims for big tourist summer

      Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
    • Photographer TTeixeira captured these images from a May Day protest in Porto, Portugal, Wednesday by demonstrators angered by economic austerity measures. "People protested with great order, but showed discontent against the government who they blame for this economic crisis," she said. "They want the government to resign and the Troika [European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank] out of this country."

      May Day protesters flood Europe

      As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
    • Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic delivers a speech in Mostar, on April 9, 2013. Prime Ministers from Bosnia's neighboring countries arrived in Bosnia with their delegations to attend the opening ceremony of "Mostar 2013 Trade Fair".

      Croatia PM: We need Italy to recover

      As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
    • Anti-eviction activists and members of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) take part in a protest against the government's eviction laws in front of the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Mallorca on April 23, 2013.

      Spain's unemployment hits record

      Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
    • People protest against the Spanish laws on house evictions outside the Spanish parliament on February 12, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.

      Welcome to Madrid: City of protests

      Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.