20 Mar 2009

EU keeps lid on spending as US throws lifeline

9:15 pm on 20 March 2009

The European Union resisted pressure to pump more cash into its recession-hit economies just as Washington added $US5 billion more to its soaring rescue bill, throwing a lifeline to stricken auto parts makers.

EU leaders are expected, however, to agree on Friday to contribute at least $US75 billion to the International Monetary Fund to boost its firepower in the face of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

The IMF warned the world economy could shrink as much as 1% this year, in its first contraction since the Second World War. It said more swift action to purge banks of toxic assets was necessary to make a gradual recovery next year possible.

The European leaders also backed a proposal to double to 50 billion euros an EU crisis fund for eastern European nations outside the euro currency zone.

But they defended the stimulus packages they have already launched, despite calls led by the United States for Europe to spend more and after the Federal Reserve's decision on Wednesday to pump a further $US1 trillion into the limping economy.

"You can't think you can solve everything with taxpayers' money. Stimulus packages are already in place and taking us through this challenging time. We already have done a lot," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said at a summit of the 27-nation bloc.

On Thursday, the US government promised $US5 billion to auto parts suppliers crucial to the survival of American car makers, in the latest effort to buttress an economy now in its 15th month of recession.

As rich countries dish out billions to save jobs and companies, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he would appeal to world leaders at next month's G20 financial summit to keep their pledges of aid to the poor, defenceless in the face of the crisis.

Outrage at AIG bonuses

US President Barack Obama has pushed through a $US787 billion stimulus package and his administration has given $US17.4 billion to struggling car makers to prevent their collapse and save thousands of jobs, with jobless numbers already at record highs.

But public rage over $US165 million in bonuses paid by insurer American International Group after it was saved by a $US180 billion bailout, continues to haunt Washington's $US700 billion financial industry rescue, seen as crucial for economic recovery.

To contain the outrage over what Mr Obama described as a symptom of "a bubble and bust economy that valued reckless speculation over responsibility and hard work", the House of Representatives slapped a heavy tax on the AIG bonuses to recoup most of the payments.

Lawmakers also suggested legislation that would ban bonus payments by all bailed-out companies until they fully repay public funds.