Blog Post

Tim Geithner and Europe’s phone number

According to a famous (yet apocryphal) joke by Henry Kissinger, there is no telephone number to call to speak to Europe. Indeed the fragmentation of European power and representation makes it difficult to determine who can speak for the EU or the euro area. US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner however has found out with whom to speak to discuss responses to the euro crisis. This, at least, is what his official schedule indicates: from January 2010 to June 2012, the last date for which his calendar is publicly available, he had no less than 168 meetings or phone calls with Euro-area officials, plus 114 with the IMF. And the person he spoke most often with, apart from the IMF chief, was the ECB president.

By: Date: February 4, 2013 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

According to Henry Kissinger’s famous (yet apocryphal) joke, there is no telephone number for Europe. US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, however, seems to have resolved Kissinger’s dilemma by calling not one number but dozens. This, at least, is what his official schedule indicates: from January 2010 to June 2012, the last date for which his calendar is publicly available, he had no fewer than 168 meetings or phone calls with euro-area officials, plus 114 with the International Monetary Fund. And the person he spoke to most often, apart from the IMF chief, was the European Central Bank president.[1]

I had the idea to examine this data when I was recently asked to speak at a conference on the US and the euro-area crisis. I was looking for some sort of quantitative evidence of the involvement of the Obama administration in the European discussion, and thought the frequency of these contacts would provide an informative indicator. Obviously, the calendar does not indicate what the subject matter of discussions was. But what else could have justified 58 contacts in 30 months between Tim Geithner and the ECB’s successive presidents, Jean-Claude Trichet and Mario Draghi? Admittedly, he may have had a more diverse array of topics to discuss with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (36 contacts) or his French counterparts (32 contacts). But why would have he called them significantly more than the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (19 contacts), with whom euro-area issues must also have been discussed? The one institution with which he certainly addressed other issues is the IMF (114 contacts with successive Fund chiefs Strauss-Kahn and Lagarde, and deputies Lipsky and Lipton), but here again, knowing how concentrated on Europe the IMF has been in recent years, the euro crisis certainly featured high on the agenda.    

Figure 1 displays the distribution of contacts for the entire period. Three striking facts emerge:

  • First, the data confirm the key role played by the IMF and the frequency of contact it has with the US Treasury Secretary. Nevertheless, there were significantly more contacts with European policymakers (168 against 114), which can be regarded as indicative of the direct involvement of the US administration in European policy discussions;
  • Second, the ECB emerges on top of all European institutions, far ahead of the European Commission and even further ahead of the Eurogroup, for which only two contacts are recorded (a G3 conference call in March 2011 and Geithner’s participation in a Eurogroup meeting in Poland in September 2011). There is little doubt that for the US Treasury, “Mr Euro” is first and foremost the ECB president. This finding is especially striking, as the ECB’s institutional interlocutor is the Fed, not the US Treasury.;
  • Third, there have been many more bilateral contacts with the German and French finance ministers than with the European Commission or the chair of the Eurogroup. This confirms the driving role of major national capitals.

Figure 2 displays the number of monthly contacts distributed into three broad groups: European institutions, national governments, and the IMF. It indicates four episodes of intensive transatlantic consultations:

  • Before the agreement on the first Greek programme in May 2010. In March, Geithner had no fewer than 9 calls or meetings with Fund chief Strauss-Kahn;
  • In autumn 2010, in the run-up to the Irish programme. In November 2010, at a time of controversy between the IMF and the ECB over a possible bail-in of Irish bank creditors, Geithner had 5 contacts with the Fund and 5 with Jean-Claude Trichet;
  • From spring 2011 to end 2011 (with a short respite in late summer/early autumn). This was a period of intense discussions on the restructuring of the Greek debt and the search for a comprehensive response to an escalating crisis. The US administration was especially vocal on the so-called “firewall”. Contacts during this period were more frequent than ever before and involved all categories of European partner;
  • In spring 2012. During this period, in which discussions increasingly focused on the plans for a banking union, contacts with the Fund were relatively less frequent, in comparison to those with European institutions and national capitals. During this period Geithner had several contacts with his Spanish counterpart De Guindos, and with Italian PM and Finance Minister Mario Monti. 

Summing up, the data suggests constant and very active involvement on the part of the Obama administration in the search for solutions to the euro crisis. They also tell us who matters in Europe in the eyes of the US administration: clearly, the one European institution that really counts is the ECB. In spite of the complex governance arrangements in place, other European institutions matter much less than Berlin and Paris.  

Thanks to Julian Lentz for his assistance in the compilation of data.


[1] Excluding contacts with Mario Draghi prior to his appointment to the ECB. Draghi was chairing the Financial Stability Board, so presumably contacts up until November 2011 were devoted to G20 affairs.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
2
16:00

Navigating a more polarised world: policy implications

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 2 - Are we entering a new age in the relationship between international economics and global politics? Is Europe well-equipped for this new world?

Speakers: Hélène Rey, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Adam Tooze and Sabine Weyand Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale 1
Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

Why China should fear the EU's carbon border tax

Expect Beijing to soon start lobbying against the proposal.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: July 26, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
1
11:00

Resolving today’s global health crisis, and avoiding future pandemics

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 1- How do we exit the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the world of tomorrow is less vulnerable to future pandemics?

Speakers: Jeremy Farrar, Amanda Glassman, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
1
15:00

The future of EU-Africa relations

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 1 - A discussion of the state of play and outlook of EU-Africa relations.

Speakers: Masood Ahmed, Amadou Hott, André Sapir, Vera Songwe and Jutta Urpilainen Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
2
11:15

Towards a new global trade regime: reform of the WTO

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 2 - the World Trade Organisation has been going through trying times, a phenomenon amplified by the pandemic. Why are we headed towards a new global trade regime? And what lies ahead for the WTO?

Speakers: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale 1
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

A world divided: global vaccine trade and production

COVID-19 has reinforced traditional vaccine production patterns, but the global vaccine trade has changed considerably.

By: Lionel Guetta-Jeanrenaud, Niclas Poitiers and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 20, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Opinion

Increasing the global supply of essential medical supplies: Time for Europe to step up its global leadership

Europe has already made a significant financial contribution to beating the pandemic, now it has the oppurtunity and moral responsibility to do more.

By: Anne Bucher and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 19, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

The European Union’s carbon border mechanism and the WTO

To avoid any backlash, the European Union should work with other World Trade Organisation members to define basic principles of carbon border adjustment mechanisms.

By: André Sapir Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: July 19, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

External Publication

Building the Road to Greener Pastures

How the G20 can support the recovery with sustainable local infrastructure investment.

By: Mia Hoffmann, Ben McWilliams and Niclas Poitiers Topic: Global Economics & Governance, Testimonies Date: July 15, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Could the RMB dislodge the dollar as a reserve currency?

The dollar remains the world’s largest reserve currency, but it is facing both domestic and external risks.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 14, 2021
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

Financing for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

How can we better prepare for future pandemics? In this event, co-hosted by the Center for Global Development and Bruegel think tanks, speakers will present "A Global Deal for Our Pandemic Age", a report of the G20 High Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

Speakers: Masood Ahmed, Victor J. Dzau, Amanda Glassman and Lawrence H. Summers Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation, Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: July 14, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

What should public spending look like?

What should we do about the increase in public spending due to COVID-19? Bruegel Director Guntram Wolff and Former Deputy Secretary-General of OECD Ludger Schuknecht discuss.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 14, 2021
Load more posts