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G-20 considers boosting IMF role in eurozone

The finance chiefs of the world's leading economies opened the door Saturday for the International Monetary Fund to play a bigger role in fighting the eurozone's escalating debt troubles.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The finance chiefs of the world's leading economies opened the door Saturday for the International Monetary Fund to play a bigger role in fighting the eurozone's escalating debt troubles.

The Group of 20 rich and poor nations asked the IMF to draw up a list of new tools to stop countries under severe market pressure from toppling into a full-blown crisis that could have global repercussions.

That appeared to be targeted directly at Italy and Spain, the eurozone's third and fourth largest economies, which have seen their funding costs spike in recent months as worries over the currency union's ability to stomp out the crisis intensified.

"What has been asked of us is instruments that are more flexible, more short term, that allow countries in good economic health but in difficulty, to resist," the IMF's managing director Christine Lagarde said after a two-day meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Paris.

She said G-20 leaders would consider the new tools at their summit in Cannes, France, early next month.

The IMF's investigation of new instruments is the biggest sign yet that the rest of the world is getting increasingly worried about the eurozone's debt crisis and may be prepared to pick up a bigger part of the costs of solving it.

"The risk outlook has darkened," Lagarde warned.

A failure of Europe to get a grip on the debt troubles of its countries could quickly lead to the collapse of banks across the continent and send shock waves through the rest of the world.

The G-20 also committed to making sure that the IMF has the resources it needs to stabilize the world economy, indicating that an increase in its funding was not being ruled out, although strong resistance to such a moved remained in several countries, including the United States.

Upcoming action
A precondition to any expansion of the IMF's role is for the eurozone to take more radical action on stemming the crisis at a summit on Oct. 23.

At that meeting in Brussels, the currency union's leaders are expected to sign off on a scheme to maximize the impact of their €440 billion ($608 billion) bailout fund, a plan to recapitalize banks across the continent to ensure they can withstand worsening market turmoil and a second bailout for Greece.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner still seemed hesitant on giving more money to the IMF, he appeared to support an expanded role for the fund.

"The members of the G-20 have a strong interest in supporting Europe, and we will continue to do so through the IMF," Geithner said. However, he stressed that the fund "has a substantial arsenal of financial resources," adding that the U.S. supported further use of "those existing resources" alongside boosted European efforts.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.