A European proposal to channel central bank loans through the International Monetary Fund may deliver as much as 200 billion euros ($270 billion) to fight the debt crisis, two people familiar with the negotiations said.
At a Nov. 29 meeting attended by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, euro-area finance ministers gave the go- ahead for work on the plan, said the people, who declined to be named because the talks are at an early stage. The need for a new crisis-containment tool emerged as the effort to boost the 440 billion-euro rescue fund to 1 trillion euros fell short.
Under the proposal, national central banks would recycle funds through the IMF, potentially to underwrite precautionary lending programs for Italy or Spain, the two countries judged to be the most vulnerable now, the people said.
“We’re looking for a maximum reinforcement with the IMF and the central bank,” Belgian Finance Ministers Didier Reynders told reporters Nov. 30.
For governments in rich countries such as Germany that are unwilling to lend more to high-debt states, the idea would unlock a fresh source of funds without violating European rules that bar central banks from offering direct budget financing, the people said.
The euro area’s 17 national central banks operate under the umbrella of the ECB. Draghi yesterday hinted at a stepped-up crisis-fighting role as long as governments take steps toward a ‘‘fiscal compact’’ that ensures healthy long-term public finances.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out elements of that strategy today, calling for European treaty amendments to create automatic, court-enforced sanctions on countries that overstep limits of 3 percent of gross domestic product on deficits and 60 percent of GDP on debt.
Bonds of Italy and Spain rose today amid optimism that European leaders will piece together a tighter fiscal framework at a Dec. 8-9 summit that would prompt a greater central bank commitment.
One option is the lending via the IMF, which specializes in aid programs. The sums being discussed by finance officials range from 100 billion to 200 billion euros, the people said. Bilateral loans through the Washington-based lender would also spare the euro-area central banks from conflicts of interest that could arise from enforcing conditions on countries where they also set interest rates, the people said.
‘‘If we could see the proposed combination of IMF and ECB action, obviously that would be very, very credible to the market,’’ Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said Nov. 30.
Such a program wouldn’t be a substitute for the increase in ECB bond purchasing that countries such as Spain have clamored for. The central bank has bought 203.5 billion euros of bonds of three countries receiving financial aid -- Greece, Ireland and Portugal -- plus Italy and Spain since May 2010.
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