French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron Sunday cautioned European governments against handing out punishment to Greece similar to that imposed on Germany after World War I.
Greeks are heading to the polls Sunday, evenly split on a referendum on whether to endorse further budget cuts and tax increases in return for aid from other euro area countries. Since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the vote June 26, Greece’s banks have shut, commerce has ground to a halt and his government has become isolated in the 19-nation currency bloc.
“Whatever the outcome of the vote, we’ll have to resume political talks tomorrow,” Macron said at a conference in Aix-en-Provence, France. “Let’s not re-enact the Treaty of Versailles.”
The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, imposed reparations on Germany that economists including John Maynard Keynes deemed counterproductive and overly punitive because of their size. Within two decades, Germany and the allied powers plunged into conflict for a second time.
Macron’s remarks broke a virtual silence by French policy makers and executives at the three-day Rencontres Economiques conference in Aix-en-Provence, France. He urged fellow ministers in the euro zone not to hide behind European Central Bank concerns and technical issues stemming from Greece’s crisis, saying that what happens next will be a measure of Europe’s ambition for the future.
“For me, the real question is political, the moment is a political one,” Macron said. The question is “whether for the first time in decades Europe, the euro zone, will shrink. Does Europe no longer have ambition? Or is it simply a technical construction?”