Who You Gonna Call? Tim Geithner Finds Europe's Phone Number

One of the European Union's greatest shortcomings is its lack of a strong leader. A novel analysis of the meetings and phone calls of the US treasury secretary shows that, among the EU's oligarchy of commissioners and presidents, there is one institution here that Timothy Geithner turns to for consultations than any other: the European Central Bank.

The ECB appears to be the main go-to place for the United States on financial matters.

The ECB appears to be the main go-to place for the United States on financial matters.

As the legend goes, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's once asked rhetorically, "Whom do I call when I want to speak to Europe?" While on a trip to Poland this summer, he told an audience that he wasn't sure if he'd actually said it, "But it's a good statement, so why not take credit for it?"

A good statement indeed. The European Union's Lisbon Treaty, implemented three years ago, was intended as an effort to streamline decision-making and create a more visible leadership to represent the factitious bloc. Yet a phone number for Europe remains elusive even today.

In search of empirical data that could provide an answer to Kissinger's query, Jean Pisani-Ferry of the economic think tank Bruegel analyzed the phone calls and meetings of US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner between January 2010 and June 2012 -- a span that includes the bailouts of euro-zone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal. He found that after the International Monetary Fund, the president of the European Central Bank (first Jean-Claude Trichet, then Mario Draghi) was Geithner's main point of contact.

The ECB (and plenty of other EU institutions) has come under criticism as an immensely powerful body of technocrats with little to no accountability to the European electorate. Yet according to the data, it is still the Continent's main representative to the United States -- at least when it comes to financial matters. Interestingly enough, the second and third most-contacted persons were German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the French finance minister (a position held by three people over the span of the data), respectively. This, Pisani-Ferry argues, supports the theory that much of the power of euro-zone decision-making remains in the capitals of the EU's two richest member-states.

Graphic: Tim Geithner's Calls and Meetings

Graphic: Tim Geithner's Calls and Meetings



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