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Germans rebuff calls for ECB action after summit

Euro coins are seen in this photo illustration taken in Rome
Euro coins are seen in this photo illustration taken in Rome

By Noah Barkin and Paul Carrel

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's chancellor and central banker urged Europe to stick to stricter budget discipline and forget about one-shot solutions after financial markets judged that another EU summit had failed to resolve the euro zone's debt crisis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann, speaking separately, rebuffed pressure for the European Central Bank to intervene decisively to stop the crisis escalating.

Merkel told parliament on Wednesday it would take years, not weeks, to overcome the debt problems but Europe would emerge stronger "if we have the necessary patience and endurance, if we do not let reversals get us down, if we consistently move towards a fiscal and stability union".

"The German government has always made it clear that the European debt crisis is not to be solved with a single blow. There is no such single blow," she said.

Weidmann, an influential voice in the ECB, made clear his opposition to ramping up purchases of troubled euro zone states' debt, saying he was "no fan" of the existing limited bond-buying program and even its supporters were growing skeptical.

He also said the Bundesbank would only provide fresh funds for the International Monetary Fund to help fight the euro zone crisis if countries beyond Europe did so too.

The euro fell below $1.30 for the first time since January, stocks slid and Italy had to pay a euro era record yield to sell bonds as nervous investors awaited a possible credit rating downgrade for one or more euro zone countries.

Rome had to pay 6.47 percent to sell 3 billion euros of 5-year bonds, highlighting fierce market pressure ahead of a year in which Italy has a gross funding goal of 440 billion euros, starting in late January.

Safe-haven German Bund futures rose by more than one full point due to renewed doubts about the effectiveness of last week's agreement on deeper fiscal union.

Ireland's European Affairs Minister, Lucinda Creighton, said last week's summit agreement by 26 European Union states, with Britain dissenting, to negotiate a new fiscal pact to enforce EU budget rules more strictly was not going to stop the rot.

"Having the fiscal compact in place by March is desirable but I don't think it's going to save the euro," she told reporters on a visit to Paris.

"Ideally (I would like to see) a very clear declaration from the ECB that it is prepared to do whatever is necessary to save the currency, and it is the ultimate backstop," Creighton said. "I don't think we're there yet but I feel we will end up there."

Ireland and France saw eye-to-eye about the need for the central bank to act as lender of last resort, but there was no consensus on this yet, she said. Paris has toned down calls for ECB action, stressing its respect for the bank's independence partly in deference to its close alliance with Germany.

Creighton warned that the crisis was likely to accelerate when countries such as Italy and Spain went to market in January and February to raise funds. "They will be challenged. We've yet to see the scale of that challenge," she said.

Weidmann told journalists the ECB's mandate prevented it from embarking on unlimited bond purchases and experience showed this would inevitably lead to inflation anyway.

"I think the idea is astonishing that one can win confidence by breaking rules," he said.

RUCTIONS

France said it and Germany wanted another euro zone summit in January to discuss steps to revive growth amid forecasts that deepening austerity measures are driving the European economy back into recession, with even Germany near standstill.

Another ECB policymaker, Dutch central banker Klaas Knot, put the onus back on EU governments, saying European leaders can solve the debt crisis if they increase their financial rescue fund to at least 1 trillion euros, either directly or via contributions to the IMF.

Merkel ruled out increasing the size of the euro zone's planned permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, beyond the agreed 500 billion euros, according to participants at a closed-door meeting in parliament on Tuesday.

But the man who chairs EU summits, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, said a review of whether the funds were adequate would be completed in March.

The renewed cacophony among European policymakers, just days after the 16th summit since start of the debt crisis, unsettled financial markets as they await an imminent decision by Standard & Poor's, which last week put 15 euro zone countries' credit ratings on negative outlook for a possible downgrade.

Creighton said it would be a matter of great concern to the whole euro area if France, the second largest guarantor of the euro zone rescue fund, lost its AAA rating.

Strains over euro zone bailouts have caused deepening ructions in Germany, the EU's main paymaster, tugging at Merkel's fractious centre-right coalition.

A senior leader of the liberal Free Democrats, junior partners to Merkel's conservatives, resigned unexpectedly on Wednesday in the latest sign of turmoil as the party awaited the outcome of a membership referendum on euro zone rescue moves.

Christian Lindner, 32, quit after the party leadership was criticized for saying prematurely that the referendum called by eurosceptics had failed to mobilize the necessary quorum to force a change in FDP policy.

The result of the ballot, which closed on Tuesday, is due to be announced on Friday. FDP leader Philipp Roesler, who is vice-chancellor and economy minister, is also under pressure to quit but sources close to him said he would not resign.

A senior EU diplomat said Merkel had signaled in the run-up to last week's European summit that her ability to make advances on euro zone rescue moves was limited until after the vote.

(Additional reporting by Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam, Sakari Suoninen in Frankfurt, Valentina Za in Milan, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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