German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble condemned as “nonsense” a breakdown in communication that caused a meeting of euro-area finance ministers to descend into confusion with a spat between Luxembourg and Austria.
Schaeuble said the abrupt cancellation of a press conference in Copenhagen yesterday by the meeting’s chairman, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and the following apology of Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter over her pre-announcement to reporters that the group had limited new bailout lending to 500 billion euros ($667 billion) could have the effect of uniting decision makers.
“This is nonsense,” Schaeuble told reporters after the meeting ended today. “If we want to calm markets, if we want to win back lost trust that we’re making with the right decisions, we have to implement them rather than continuing to feed more and more speculation.”
Schaeuble urged ministers to coalesce around a single message a day after they agreed on the fresh lending limit. He criticized Fekter, who appeared before cameras before a final decision had been made to unveil an 800 billion-euro firewall, a figure that includes 300 billion euros already committed to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
“Juncker was indeed annoyed, and he wasn’t the only one,” Schaeuble said.
Juncker left early yesterday, telling reporters on his way to an elevator that “there was no point in having a press conference” because of Fekter. About an hour later, journalists, who had gathered in the main press auditorium, watched as staff removed his name from the podium and the briefing was called off.
Fekter, 56, later apologized. The timing of her appearance “wasn’t optimal,” ministry spokesman Gregor Schuetze said. Asked after yesterday’s meeting if the spat had been patched up, Fekter said: “Yes.”
Schaeuble, who said the spat may lead to more verbal discipline at meetings, also attributed the fallout to 58-year-old Juncker’s health.
“I hope he’s feeling better next week than he was this week,” Schaeuble said.
Juncker himself indicated later that he wanted to put an end to the cacophony of announcements.
“I’m against babbling, so I wanted to make a point,” he said in an interview yesterday after the tiff.