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For those of us who've lost count, when European leaders gather again later this week, it will be their 19th summit since the Greek financial crisis began to undermine the euro. That was three years ago. And after so many inconclusive summits, markets are anxious to see if leaders can finally agree on how to save the euro.
Italy's Prime Minister has offered a rather startling warning, saying we have a week to save the eurozone. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joined us on the line to talk about this latest meeting.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So this summit will be the first since Greece elected a new government that wants to re-negotiate the tough terms of its EU bailout. But Greece's, I think, two most important participants have taken ill.
POGGIOLI: Yes. Both the new prime minister Antonis Samaras and finance minister Vassilis Rapanos were hospitalized. One for a detached retina, the other for unspecified abdominal pain. They will be replaced. But the replacements won't have as much clout.
The summit had been anxiously awaited. Greece wants to apply for a loosening of the conditions set by its $162 billion bailout deal. The effects have been devastating. It's the fifth year of recession for Greece. Unemployment has soared to record highs. And many economists say the terms cannot be met by the deadline set by Greece's lenders. Just paying the interest on the bailout reportedly costs six to seven percent of GDP each year. But German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble bluntly told Greece stop asking for more help and instead move quickly to enact reform measures that have already been agreed to.
MONTAGNE: Well, of course, it's not just Greece that is teetering. Spain is also on the frontline of the euro crisis. What is Spain's position?
POGGIOLI: Well, today Spain makes its formal request for financial assistance for its banks that have been ailing from a huge real estate bubble. Spain is adamant it will not cede sovereignty and says the conditions posed by lenders will not be as tough as those imposed on Greece. But that triggered demands also from Ireland and Portugal, the two other countries that have received EU bailouts, for looser terms.
Many economists say this piecemeal approach shows that there's no overriding strategy or vision on how to rebuild the Greek, Irish, or Portuguese economies, not to mention the so-called too big to fail Spanish and Italian economies.
MONTAGNE: OK. Though, last Friday there was a pre-summit. The French, Italian, and Spanish leaders, they met with the German chancellor in Rome. Did they not make any progress?
POGGIOLI: Not much. For the first time, the concept of growth instead of austerity was high on the agenda. They agreed to a growth package. But essentially it simply redirects existing EU funds. There's still big differences between Germany and the other EU leaders on how to save the euro.
Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her rejection of common bonds, which France, Italy and Spain consider a key tool to ease the crisis. Merkel, on the other hand, insists on greater devolution of member states sovereignty to EU institutions that would strictly control and regulate their fiscal and economic policies. But as French president Francois Hollande said, there can be no transfer of sovereignty without an improvement in solidarity.
MONTAGNE: But, Sylvia, other than Italy's prime minister, do the EU leaders have a sense of urgency? I mean, deadlock, it's causing anxiety in markets across the world.
POGGIOLI: Oh, certainly, many of them certainly do have that. But Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti has certainly been the most apocalyptic. His warning is also dictated by a new political reality. The prolonged crisis is fanning a populist anti euro and anti EU sentiment across the continent. And some of the strongest pressures coming from Monti's predecessor, Sylvio Berlusconi, who says a departure from the euro would be no blasphemy. So euro skepticism is no longer a marginal phenomenon in Europe. It could become mainstream. And that could have unforeseen consequences.
MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.