The List


How many summits does it take to NOT solve the eurocrisis?

"As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels," Reid Hastie, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, once wrote. "[P]lease, don't just call a meeting and hope the magic happens. Take charge and take personal responsibility for meeting its objectives, whatever they are."

It's advice that European Union leaders would have done well to consider as they kicked off a closely watched two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday, while Italy and Spain watch their cost of borrowing soar. With France and Germany at odds about whether to address the European debt crisis by pooling eurozone debt or better integrating the region financially and politically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already tried to tamp down expectations for this week's summit, which is expected to produce a stimulus package and plans for a banking union.

"There is no quick solution and no simple solution," she warned in Berlin on Wednesday. "There is no one magic formula ... with which the government debt crisis can be overcome in one go."

The thing is, when it comes to major EU summits in Brussels, the region's heads of state haven't had one go -- they've had roughly 20 since 2010 (albeit with a changing cast of characters, as 14 of the 27 EU countries have switched leaders since the debt crisis began). And if the previous crisis-management meetings are any guide, we should expect this week's summit to be long on talk of turning points and short on game-changing results. Here's a look at what European leaders have accomplished in their previous gatherings -- and how they've chosen to frame those achievements.


FEB. 11, 2010

Action: European leaders discuss troubling developments in Greece, which recently announced that its debt had reached the highest level in the country's modern history and unveiled austerity measures to slash the soaring budget deficit.

Assurances: In a joint statement, the assembled heads of state pledge to "take determined and coordinated action, if needed, to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole." They call on Greece to cut spending and add that "the Greek government has not requested any financial support."

MARCH 25, 2010

Action: Eurozone leaders work with the International Monetary Fund to create a $29 billion safety net for Greece.

Assurances: Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou boasts that the package "guarantees the protection of financial stability in the eurozone" and that "no other measures are needed" (the German press is no less effusive, with one headline screaming, "Euro crash avoided!"). But EU President Herman Van Rompuy sounds a note of caution. "We don't view this as a miracle cure," he says. "It is an important part of the cure, no more."

MAY 7, 2010

Action: Shortly after bailing out Greece, eurozone leaders hammer out plans to check the spreading sovereign debt crisis. Days later, European finance ministers roll out a $1 trillion emergency package, which includes a European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) that can provide financial assistance to troubled eurozone countries.

Assurances: French President Nicolas Sarkozy states that the "leaders of the eurozone have decided to do everything in their power to ensure the stability and unity of the currency union."

OHN THYS/AFP/GettyImages

JUNE 17, 2010

Action: European leaders adopt the Europe 2020 Strategy for long-term growth and introduce a new "European Semester" system of economic policy coordination at what one European diplomat dubs a "normal meeting" for a change.

Assurances: "We are sending a clear signal to citizens and to the markets and also to our partners: We will consolidate our budgets and reduce our debt, without strangling our economies and putting people's well-being at risk," European Commission President José Manuel Barroso declares in a statement

SEPT. 16, 2010

Action: In a summit overshadowed by France's crackdown on Roma migrants, the European Council does not dwell on the debt crisis.

Assurances: In a high-minded reflection on the region's economic governance reforms, the council issues a statement welcoming the "important progress made ... on the development of a new macro-surveillance framework to monitor and correct unsustainable competitiveness divergences and imbalances in a timely manner and on the strengthening of national fiscal frameworks."

OCT. 29, 2010

Action: European heads of state endorse new budget rules and discuss amending the EU;'s Lisbon Treaty to create a permanent system for responding to financial crises.

Assurances: "We are doing everything to ensure that there will never be a repeat of the crisis we have had," Merkel explains. "One can already say that the euro will be strengthened.


DEC. 16, 2010

Action: A month after bailing out Ireland, European leaders agree to create a permanent European bailout fund called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to replace the ESFS in 2013.

Assurances: "We are ready to do everything that is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area," Barroso declares. European officials promise to unveil a "comprehensive package" to resolve the eurozone debt crisis once and for all in March.

FEB. 4, 2011

Action: European leaders clash over a pact supported by France and Germany to strengthen the competitiveness of weaker eurozone countries as part of a larger effort to expand the region's bailout fund.

Assurances: The outlook in the eurozone "has substantially improved," Van Rompuy observes. "The decisions taken last year ... are clearly paying off. However, we are aware that there is still a lot of homework to do. It is not a time for complacency; we will learn lessons from the crisis."

MARCH 12, 2011

Action: Eurozone leaders add more firepower to the region's bailout fund and agree to adopt the "competitiveness pact" that had stoked controversy at the previous summit.

Assurances: "The most important thing of this summit was that Europe developed the necessary measures for a systemic approach," notes Portugal's then Prime Minister José Sócrates. "All the countries, including Portugal, have done their share and assumed their commitments."


MARCH 25, 2011

Action: A political crisis in Portugal, which will ultimately result in a bailout for the country, prevents European officials from unveiling a package that meets market expectations. Officials delay increasing the European rescue fund but do strike deals on how to fund the ESM and better coordinate economic policy.

Assurances: "We adopted today a comprehensive package of measures which should allow us to turn the corner of the financial crisis and continue our path towards sustainable growth," the European Council says in a statement.

JUNE 24, 2011

Action: EU leaders approve a second bailout package for Greece on the condition that it implement new austerity measures.

Assurances: Barroso, the European Commission president, says there is "a real will of the member states to do what is necessary" while European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek waxes poetic about the predicament confronting the region's heads of state. "We are like Odysseus, who must sail between the Scylla of mistrustful financial markets and the Charybdis of growing discontent amongst the population," he explains, adding that Europe is headed toward a safe harbor.

JULY 21, 2011

Action: European leaders agree to reduce Greece's debt burden and grant new powers to the EFSF rescue fund.

Assurances: "We improved Greek debt sustainability, we took measures to stop the risk of contagion and finally we committed to improve the eurozone's crisis management," Van Rompuy announces after the meeting. "When European leaders say that we will do ‘everything what is required' to save the eurozone, it is very simple: We mean it," he adds.



OCT. 23, 2011

Action: European leaders move closer to agreements on bank recapitalization and on how to use the region's bailout fund to prevent bond market contagion, during a meeting that produces heated exchanges between Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Assurances: Van Rompuy, who had previously pledged that the EU would "finalize our comprehensive strategy on the euro area sovereign debt crisis" at meeting, says those decisions will now have to be made at the next summit.

OCT. 26, 2011

Action: In a marathon 11-hour negotiating session, European leaders reach an agreement to reduce Greece's debt (by asking private sector investors to accept 50 percent losses on Greek bond holdings), recapitalize banks, and strengthen Europe's bailout fund.

Assurances: "The summit allowed us to adopt the components of a global response, of an ambitious response, of a credible response to the crisis," Sarkozy proclaims. Merkel is equally triumphant. "We Europeans showed that we are able to reach the correct conclusions," she says. "We found agreement on a complete package."

DEC. 9, 2011

Action: Most EU countries adopt an intergovernmental "fiscal compact" that includes mandatory penalties for states that exceed deficit targets, with Britain refusing to take part.

Assurances: "The stability union, the fiscal union will be developed step-by-step in the next years," Merkel remarks, "but the breakthrough has been achieved."


JAN. 30, 2012

Action: European leaders approve the fiscal compact and the eurozone's permanent rescue fund.

Assurances: European Central Bank President Mario Draghi greets the fiscal agreement as "the first step towards a fiscal union," adding that "it certainly will strengthen confidence in the euro area."

MARCH 2, 2012

Action: European leaders sign the fiscal compact but delay a decision about beefing up Europe's financial firewall.

Assurances: "I think we are turning the page," Sarkozy asserts. "We are in the midst of exiting this crisis." The EU's closing statement includes 24 mentions of the word "growth" and only one mention of the word "crisis," according to Der Spiegel.

MAY 23, 2012

Action: European leaders urge Greece to stay committed to austerity and remain in the eurozone, while new French President François Hollande, a Socialist who campaigned on a pro-growth agenda, makes his first appearance at the meetings and expresses support for Eurobonds.

Assurances: "Nothing will be decided today," Merkel explains. "It's an exchange of opinions and then a final agenda at the end of June."

Despite their rosy pronouncements at the end of these summits, European leaders have often said that resolving the debt crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. But even marathons end eventually. Europe's inexhaustible capacity for self-delusion, it seems, may never run out.


The List

The World's Most Meddlesome Supreme Courts

The United States isn't the only country where judges aren't exactly above the political fray.


The court: 21 judges appointed by the president for life terms

Activism: Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court cemented its reputation as one of the world's most active judiciaries on June 14 when it dissolved the country's Islamist-controlled parliament, throwing the country's electoral process for yet another loop. The decision followed a ruling in May that barred 10 candidates from the presidential race, including the Muslim Brotherhood's top candidate, millionaire backroom fixer Khairat el-Shater.

The court ruled that a third of the parliament had been elected unconstitutionally, therefore delegitimizing the entire body. That order follows another controversial ruling on the same day that allowed former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to stay in the presidential race, which critics denounced as paving the way for the old regime to retain power.

Egypt's Supreme Court bench is filled entirely with judges appointed by Mubarak, a group with an obvious interest in blocking the Muslim Brotherhood from taking power.  The Brotherhood won nearly half of the parliamentary seats in last year's legislative election, and other Islamists gained another 20 percent. Even though Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was announced as the winner of the election on Sunday, it's still not clear how much authority he will be allowed by military authorities and presidential allies on the court. Critics around the world have joined the Brotherhood in chalking up the court's rulings to a "soft military coup." The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is supposed to turn over political leadership to a civilian administration on June 30, but with the court's not-so-subtle attempts to keep the Brotherhood from wielding real clout, many fear that the SCAF will retain control indefinitely.



The court:  17 justices appointed by the president. Mandatory retirement age is 65.

Activism: On June 19, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had "ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan." Gilani had been held in contempt of court since refusing to prosecute President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption, as the court had directed two years ago.

Giliani's sacking is another episode in the escalating power struggle between the military-backed Supreme Court and the civilian administration, which is controlled by Gilani and Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The court and the president have been butting heads since 2009, when Zardari opposed the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf. Zardari had only allowed Chaudhry to return to power to avoid massive protests led by Zardari's rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Supreme Court and Zardari's government have been on a collision course ever since, and Gilani's dismissal was yet another judicial attack on Zardari.

But the court didn't stop with ousting the prime minister. When Zardari and PPP leaders selected former finance and health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin to replace Gilani as prime minister, the court issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged production of an illegal drug. Just to be safe, the arrest warrant includes the ousted prime minister's son, too. Although critics and activists have denounced the court's actions as a coup, spokesmen from the PPP have told their supporters to stand down for the time being.

On June 25, the PPP's second choice -- Raja Pervaiz Ashraf -- took over as prime minister. There's a good chance Ashraf may also be on a collision course with the court, as he is currently facing allegations of corruption and bribe-taking from his time as water and power minister. His relationship with the court could become even more tense if he follows in his predecessor's footsteps by refusing to investigate Zardari.



The court: 15 justices (Knesset determines number) appointed by a Judicial Selection Committee, a nine-member body consisting of Knesset representatives, supreme court justices, cabinet ministers, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association. All serve life terms.

Activism: A longstanding example of judicial activism, the Israeli Supreme Court recently delivered a controversial ruling that declared 30 Jewish apartments that had been built on privately held Palestinian property in the West Bank to be illegal. The court ordered the settlements be torn down by July 1, rejecting the state's petition to the delay the demolition. The government is also  currently petitioning the court to delay the razing of another West Bank settlement outpost that has been declared illegal. These cases are yet another phase of the ongoing battle between the Likud Party and the judiciary, which has often ruled in favor of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The Israeli Supreme Court is one of the only judiciaries in the world that allows non-citizens to petition against acts of the state and the military. For example, in 2004 the court ruled in favor of Palestinian claimants who argued that a security barrier around North Jerusalem would disrupt the "fabric of life" for residents of the West Bank.

Israel has had a fairly active judiciary since its founding and as the country has no formal constitution, the court can decide on the legitimacy of almost any law the Knesset drafts. But the court's penchant for intervening really took off under Aharon Barak, who served as its president from 1995 to 2006. Barak's philosophy of activism -- denounced by some as "judicial imperialism" -- led to numerous confrontations with the Israeli government on issues of national security and Palestinian settlements. Prominent cases included the court's 1999 ban on torture in terrorism interrogations and its prohibition of targeted assassinations in 2008 -- although leaked documents suggested that the army ignored that ruling.

The activist tradition established under Barak has continued under his successors, but in the past year, the Likud-controlled Knesset has generated reams of bills seeking to limit the judiciary's power. One stipulated that justice candidates had to be vetted by the entire Knesset; another proposed a mechanism that would enable the Knesset to restore laws the court strikes down. Although Netanyahu has often been stymied by the court's decisions, he has blocked many of these votes -- often going against his own party -- and vowed to support the court's independence.



The court: 31 judges appointed by the president for life terms

Activism: India's Supreme Court routinely intervenes in national politics and in the daily lives of citizens.  According to its own website, the court delves into "matters in which interest of the public at large is involved," not only cases that pass through lower courts. This tendency has led to an explosion in public-interest litigation over the past decade.

India's judiciary came out swinging in the 1980s in an attempt to restore public faith in the court after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's period of emergency rule. During that time, the court was widely perceived as the prime minister's rubber stamp. Since then, the court has injected itself into virtually every area of public policy, going so far as to ban name-calling between castes ("In the modern age, nobody's feelings should be hurt," Chief Justice Markandey Katju remarked in that 2011 decision).

The "hyperactivist" Indian court has issued rulings on everything else from job creation to urban planning to the management of zoos. Often, such rulings are directives for the government to carry out, like distribute food aid or prosecute individuals the court deems corrupt. Some of the court's interventions have provoked public outrage, like the 2006 ruling ordering the government to demolish nearly 45,000 illegal storefronts in New Delhi that owners had bribed local politicians to overlook.

Some experts -- including former Indian Chief Justice J.S. Verma -- have warned that the court's micromanagement borders on "judicial tyranny," and runs the risk of usurping authority from the other two branches of government as it seeks to create and shape policy. Other critics say that the court is already there, run by judges that another former chief justice criticized as "social engineers."



The court: 5 judges appointed by the emir for life terms

Activism: While the spotlight was on the Egyptian Supreme Court's recent disbanding of parliament to prevent Islamist control, Kuwait's Constitutional Court did almost exactly the same thing on June 20 in the politically deadlocked Gulf state. Following a somewhat convoluted chain of events, Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah's hand-picked court protected his grip on power by ruling one of his earlier decrees invalid.

Since the emir was reinstated following the Gulf War, Kuwait has been politically liberal -- by Gulf standards -- and the elected parliament regularly criticizes the government. But the system has become unworkable in recent years as the parliament, increasingly dominated by Islamist parties, has clashed with the cabinet picked by the emir. The emir has dissolved parliament four times since 2006 and his cabinet has resigned eight times.

In November 2011, the court blocked a parliamentary attempt to question Prime Minister Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah, a royal family member, over charges that he had paid bribes to pro-government MPs. Opposition groups, partly inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, stormed the parliament in protest and the emir dissolved parliament on Dec. 6, citing "deteriorating conditions," and called snap elections.

In those elections, held Feb. 6, anti-government Islamist parties made their strongest showing ever, taking 34 of the 50 seats in the legislature. Following several more months of deadlock this year, the court has now nullified the February election on the grounds that the emir's initial decrees dissolving parliament had been invalid and ordered that the previous parliament be reinstated. The opposition, not surprisingly, decried the decision, calling it a "coup against the constitution."

The court is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the emir's grip on power. But the fact that it can only do so by undermining his own decrees doesn't bode well for the future of Kuwait's tenuous political arrangement.