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).

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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