German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he’s worried about Germany’s image in Europe, as he signaled a readiness to listen to others on efforts to overcome the region’s economic troubles.
Schaeuble, addressing students in Berlin today alongside French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, said they both agree on the need to hasten banking union and that no one country has a monopoly on how to resolve Europe’s woes. It’s “good” that Germans show compassion for countries in southern Europe that are shouldering record youth unemployment, Schaeuble said.
“It’s not the case in Europe, never, that some know it all and the others don’t,” Schaeuble said. “That is all wrong. Germany can learn a lot from other countries and we have to.” He and Moscovici “work on how we can benefit from the experiences of each other,” Schaeuble said.
The ministers spoke at an event on German-French economic collaboration as part of ceremonies to mark 50 years of the two countries’ post-World War II reconciliation. Moscovici, while saying that policies during the debt crisis must tilt toward bolstering growth and away from austerity pushed by Germany, said that Europe is founded on compromise and rejected “caricatures” of Germany.
Moscovici on May 5 declared “the end of the dogma of austerity” as the only tool to fight the debt crisis, two days after the European Commission gave his country and Spain two extra years to meet budget deficit reduction targets.
The minister repeated today that the commission’s decision marked a “change of course” that allows policies to orient themselves toward growth while “conserving budget seriousness” such as sticking to structural deficit targets.
France’s economy remains under pressure from a domestic budget squeeze and weak euro-area demand at a time when President Francois Hollande is trying to revive economic growth. Industrial output fell 0.9 percent in March, the national statistics office Insee said in Paris today.
“The public debate -- one side for austerity and the other for growth -- is a pure misunderstanding,” said Schaeuble. “Probably due to my command of the French language, I did not understand Pierre Moscovici to have said that this was a change of course.”
Schaeuble also said that banking union is a “priority project” for the coming months and that “we’ll quickly move it forward,” as Moscovici had advocated. While closer economic and political integration may ultimately require changes to the European Union’s treaty, that’s not the case for now, he said.
“Of course we also need institutional changes in the medium term,” Schaeuble said. “But of course we can’t wait, given the inertia we have in Europe, until we achieve treaty changes to solve current problems. Therefore, we need to do the best we can on the basis of the existing treaties.”