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Trans-Channel Dog Fight: Enough Is Enough

The brawl has made for cracking entertainment. It's been a super-fun read. But it's time for government officials in the United Kingdom and France to shut their traps and get their heads back into the game of saving the euro zone's economy.

Steven Puetzer | Getty Images

This weekend's London papers—the serious ones, anyway—radiated with more headlines about the ongoing verbal affray between government heavyweights on both sides of the Channel.

It's like watching two men on a sinking vessel who, panicked by the rising water, opt against bailing some of it overboard and decide instead to distract themselves by engaging in an impromptu, topside scrap.

This weekend, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Cleggslapped back at François Baroin. The French finance minister said on Friday, essentially but not literally: Yeah, it's bad here, but at least we're not the UK. Christian Noyer, the head of the Bank of France, had already said something similar. Cameron and Sarkozy, meanwhile, behave like pit bulls that can't wait to clamp their teeth into each other as soon as they can slip the leash.

Some may believe that, as an American, I don't have a dog in this fight. But the fact of the matter is that I very much do. The U.S. does, and the rest of Europe does. China, Brazil and India do. Distractions from the task at hand—fending off any deepening of Europe's financial crisis—aren't good for anybody, anywhere.

I had a chat with a British friend—we'll call him Tom—on Saturday, not about trans-Channel bickering, but about his business situation. Tom is co-owner of a structural engineering consultancy. He's got 15 employees in London, ten in New York. And he's on the verge of bankruptcy.

"It's hard to find jobs," he told me, "and then it's hard to find them for the right price."

Tom recently was very close to a buyout arrangement, after slashing his asking price by three-quarters. But at the last second, his potential buyer's bank decided to whack the deal. The bank abruptly slapped his almost-buyer with a two-year, blanket moratorium on acquisitions.

Two years. I've learned from experience to put as much credence in such stories from people on the ground, trying to do business, as in any expert economist's projection on things like when a downturn will end.

Don't think for a second that absurd sniping between high-ranking government officials doesn't deeply influence banks' decision-making when it comes to things like green-lighting acquisitions. There are few professions more quakingly risk-averse, when times are tough, than banking. Still, I almost can't blame the bankers, given the circus environment being created by some of Europe's top dogs.

As for Tom, he's got more immediate concerns. It's been tough going for three years. He's fought the good fight, but now he's had it.

"I'm ready," he said, "for it to be over."

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