BRUSSELS, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The euro literally began to fall apart this week.
As 12 euro zone finance ministers were gathering in Brussels to try to heal the rift over a sharp warning to Germany that its budget deficit is getting out of control, strange things were happening to the money itself.
The middle started to drop out of euro coins -- literally -- much to the consternation of officials at mints which cast them.
"This is not supposed to happen," was all an official at the Belgian mint would say after being presented with one- and two-euro coins missing their nickel centers.
The launch of euro coins less than two months ago had been heralded as a triumph.
But the prospect of replacing nickel centers in the brass-ringed coins worries euro zone administrations. Put the coins in a refrigerator and when they get really cold, the centers fall out -- rendering them worthless. It also apparently happens while they are jangling in people's pockets.
Additionally, some Europeans have rejected the tiny five-, two- and one-cent coins. Finland has abandoned the small ducats and Belgium is close behind. No one is commenting on the inevitability of inflation.
The euro's triumph also was supposed to be its portability across frontiers.
Unfortunately, national symbols stamped on the back of the coins has created another problem. Vending machines in different countries apparently are so fine-tuned, they only accept their national coin symbols. Different styles get rejected by the machines.
None of this was on the agenda of the meeting of euro group finance ministers in Brussels Monday night. Facing them was a very much more difficult agenda -- how to suppress the official warning given to Germany by the European Union executive, the European Commission.
The commission warned Germany, as guardian of the euro zone stability pact, that its budget deficit was in danger of exceeding the 3 percent stability pact budgetary limit. Germany's deficit recently rose to 2.7 percent from 2.5 percent.
Facing elections this year, German leaders were furious at the reprimand. Hans Eichel, the German finance minister rejected the warning and demanded it be withdrawn. Political support for the withdrawal came from Portugal, also warned for its budget deficit; France, which is facing elections; and Italy and Britain; both of whom are skeptical of anything smacking of Brussels rule.
Britain has no wish for its citizens to see member states being told how to run their economies if the British government hopes to get citizens to accept the euro in a referendum sometime in the near future. So British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was not happy to be told that Britain's public spending needed to be brought under control.
In a bid to resolve the issue, the EU president cobbled together a compromise warning Monday. It would technically be a recommendation to ministers at Monday's meeting and would not be formally issued. Instead, Germany would accept three key commitments voluntarily.
Eichel would agree to move up Germany's target date to get its budget balanced. The finance minister also would control government spending and agree that any additional tax revenues would be used to reduce the country's burgeoning deficit.
"We are now talking procedural issues rather than substance," Eichel said upon his arrival in Brussels.
With the compromise, honor is preserved for the commission as guardians of the stability pact; Germany has not been warned and Brussels -- a euphemism for central governmental control -- has been put in its place.
It's a bright-looking solution -- unfortunately so far as public opinion and maybe the markets see such political compromises -- it looks as though the middle has fallen out of the stability pact.