When European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Sunday for an emergency meeting about the economic crisis they firmly dismissed calls from some Eastern European states for a regional bailout.
Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe are feeling the pain, in partticularl Hungary and the Baltic States. And there are widespread concerns that Western European countries will take protectionist measures that will ultimately hurt these ailing Eastern states. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany lead the charge, calling for a €190 billion ($240 billion) regional bailout for Eastern Europe and warned that: "We should not allow a new Iron Curtain to be set up and divide Europe."
Hungary and the Baltic States also called on the EU to make it easier for countries to join the euro, by relaxing the current criteria and shortening the two-year waiting period. Only 16 of the 27 member states currently use the euro and the currency has proved particularly stable in the turbulent currency markets.
Western European, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, roundly rejected both calls. The euro zone countries want to protect the currency's stability and most EU leaders pointed to the very different circumstances faced by individual countries. In the end the bloc decided to follow a policy of helping individual countries on a case-by-case basis while pursuing a broader EU-wide policy of weathering the economic crisis.
As the biggest contributor to the bloc's coffers, Germany is reluctant to get into the business of financing any massive regional bailout. On Monday German commentators are unanimous in their approval of the EU's response and some papers castigate Hungary for its behavior ahead of the summit.
The business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"At this point, there is no telling when we will get past this recession and which victims will be lying on the side of the road when it's all over. But we have already learned one lesson: The age of national economic policies in Europe is over. None of Europe's smaller countries has any chance of escaping the phenomenal undertow of the global financial markets by themselves. Going it alone, each and every European country -- including the biggest ones -- would get sucked under into the abyss."
"For Germany, quite a few economic issues are currently in play. It's hard to imagine what our companies would do without open European export markets and a stable common currency. The result would inevitably be gigantic losses of wealth for all (German) citizens. For this reason, the federal government must do all in its power to nip all attempts at protectionism in the EU in the bud. "
"It is also in Germany's own interest to show solidarity with its EU partner states that are wobbling as a result of the crisis. There is no danger of the EU being split along economic lines into a rich west and a poor east, as Hungary's prime minister has claimed. The fact is that there are countries all over Europe that are losing their footing -- whether it's Ireland in the north, Latvia in the east or Greece in the south. German companies both sell and produce products in all of these countries -- for that very reason alone, Germany's federal government cannot leave any of these countries in the lurch."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"You know things have gotten pretty bad when you start hearing whiny, extortionist tones talking about how, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new Iron Curtain is being established along with a partition (of Europe). The people expressing these things are, of course, particularly the new EU member states from Central and Eastern Europe, who consider what they're hearing from "old Europe" as being rather lacking in terms of collegiality. "
"In this crisis, it would be fatal if the (narrow-minded) opinion of individual nations dominates to a degree that is more than legitimate, absolutely necessary and unavoidable. And the same holds true if domestic markets turn out to only be fair-weather friends and national rescue packages come at the expense of one's own partners. In the long run, these types of rescues don't work. In the end, everyone will be forced to jointly bear the costs that cause this separation, collapse and political crisis. Moreover, it would also mean yet more damage to the idea of a pan-European community."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The countries of Europe finally decided to find their way back to a sense of community at the summit in Brussels -- and with not a second to spare. In recent weeks, protectionist sentiments have spread through Europe like a virus. All of a sudden, more and more politicians were convinced that they could be solve this crisis using national means or with swift bilateral assistance and that, in a pinch, they could reach into the coffers of Europe's richer countries. But, in the end, when they were presented with the option of either improving cooperation or going it alone , the leaders of Europe's states choose to pursue a common course together ."
"The crisis makes it abundantly clear just how intertwined (the EU) is. If one country collapses, it pulls the other ones down with it. The Europeans have no choice but to constantly renew the old pledges of solidarity and common security. And this is the case even if this crisis is going to get very expensive."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"If there's one thing that all the countries in the European Union agree upon, it is that they are facing the largest economic crisis in the more than 50 years since the union was founded. Yet, despite the fact that the crisis might turn out to be very painful, the crisis also means that decisions will have to be made, and new decisions can also offer opportunities for a new beginning."
"Hungary has now demonstrated how a chance like this can be squandered. Even before the leaders of the EU member states could privately ruminate on how they might be able to combine forces to halt the economic slide, Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany had already laid down incredible demands on the table. As Gyurcsany put it, there need to be 'solidarity funds' for Eastern Europe of up to €190 billion in order to prevent 'a new Iron Curtain.'"
"But to accuse the EU of erecting a new Iron Curtain is exactly the opposite of what Europe needs right now. That is no new beginning. And, more than anything, what it shows is a lack of solidarity -- which has to go both ways."