It’s the leadership, stupid!

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Hindustan Times, September 19, 2011

Like a jigsaw puzzle, Europe comprises numerous small, irregularly-shaped tiles that need to be put together. To accomplish that task, real leadership is essential. Considering eurozone’s financial crisis, policymakers frequently engage in meetings, one of which is the G7. The G7 finance ministers’ meeting in Marseille, France, was devoted to the crisis enveloping Europe. “European officials fully understand the gravity of the situation there,” US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said. “The G7, alongside the International Monetary Fund, is committed to working with them to decisively address the crisis in Europe.”

The officials clearly understand the struggles as well as member nations’ desire for independence that may lead to the separation of the euro. However, the recent discussion produced no exact solution. Now, several are predicting another recession.

Despite the current crisis and serious challenges expected in near future, the policymakers seem to show no real purpose in coming up with solutions. Failure to provide a resolution raised an important question. Do leaders have the ability to manage the eurozone crisis?

Recent surveys showed that some European leaders received poor ratings from the public. Only 22% of Germans have faith in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ability to handle the financial crisis, while 83% have little faith that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be able to solve the crisis.

In addition, due to high unemployment, budget deficits and housing/banking crisis, analysts and businessmen have little faith that Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had the strength to push reforms that Spain needs. Likewise, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s ability is also questioned.

Confidence, therefore, is very low. However, breaking up the eurozone or having a re-election is not a good solution. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” The leaders of individual member countries need to motivate their citizens during times such as these.

Although the European dream is threatening to burst like a bubble, we should not let that happen. The European Union (EU) was founded on May 9, 1950, based on similarities — cultures, principles and traditions by former French foreign minister Robert Schuman. That dream of his led to the growth of EU, the third largest governing institution in the world.

The time has come every member country gears up to stand strong and fight this crisis together. The countries need to meet the challenges both within their own country and as a part of European Union.

To put the crisis behind, Europe needs to take a quantum step forward. It needs to focus on the big picture, make new choices, formulate effective strategies and move in the right direction. This current crisis only demonstrates the importance of a coordinated framework for crisis management.

A series of muddling-through actions, without a strong master plan should be avoided. Fiscal budget discipline is utmost important. Together, we should work on the growth and start decreasing the total amount of debt. We should be clear and specific in our objective. The key is to set a long-term realistic target.

With each member country willing to set its house right and also stand with other countries in the zone, slowly but surely, the crisis can be mitigated and we can ensure a long and stable future.

With Europe being confronted with these challenges, Brussels must be strengthened in order to achieve true and sustainable European leadership. Who knows, after the crisis, Europe may come out even stronger?

Frank-Jürgen Richter is the founder and chairman of Horasis, a Zurich-based global business community. The views expressed by the author are personal