German judges, Dutch voters, IMF inspectors and Brussels regulators could all spring surprises that make it harder to resolve a sovereign debt crisis which is almost three years old and weighing on the world economy.
Wednesday is the main day to watch, reports Reuters.
Germany’s constitutional court rules then on the legality of the euro zone’s permanent financial rescue fund, the European Commission unveils detailed plans for a euro zone banking union, and the Netherlands holds a cliff hanger general election.
Then European finance ministers meet in Cyprus from Friday to try to thrash out differences over banking supervision and possible extra aid for Spain, the zone’s fourth biggest economy, and Greece, the problem country that first triggered the crisis.
Decisions on Spain and Greece are not likely until October, but the talks may point to whether Madrid will apply for European assistance, at the risk of unpalatable conditions and supervision, and whether EU and IMF inspectors are leaning towards allowing a vital aid instalment to keep Athens afloat.
Europe has been holding its breath for two months for the German court ruling, a potential show-stopper.
All 20 legal experts polled by Reuters expect the judges to let the European Stability Mechanism and a European fiscal discipline pact go ahead, but most expect them to add tough conditions for future bailouts.
That could potentially tie Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hands or, at the least, make her backing for bailouts politically even more difficult given a public backlash against last week’s ECB decision to buy the bonds of vulnerable states.
If the court were to rule against the ESM, it would have a devastating effect on bond and currency markets, pushing the 17-nation currency zone deeper into turmoil by casting doubt on future rescues of heavily-indebted southern member states.
But if as expected it gives a green light, it may set out caveats that scare investors and complicate crisis-management.
A quarter of the public and constitutional law professors surveyed expect the court to say that European integration has reached the limits permitted by Germany’s Basic Law and any deeper union would require an unprecedented referendum on a new constitution.
For months, it looked as if the Dutch election could end in paralysis or throw up a government in thrall to hard-left or far-right eurosceptics, making any parliamentary backing for future euro zone bailouts well nigh impossible.
But latest opinion polls show the centre-right Liberals of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the centre-left Labour party pulling ahead neck-and-neck, with support for leftist and anti-immigration populist parties fading, suggesting a pro-European coalition may emerge.
Even so, it may takes months of negotiation before this increasingly sceptical founder member of the European Union has a fully empowered government, casting doubt on its ability to agree to any early steps towards closer euro zone integration.