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16th Sep 2019

Barroso says German calls for treaty change are 'naive'

  • Jose Manuel Barroso has some harsh words for Germany (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said Germany's plans to try to change the treaty to enhance economic governance in the eurozone are "naive" and accused Berlin of showing a lack of leadership throughout the current eurozone crisis.

In an interview published in Tuesday's (25 May) edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mr Barroso said that it would not be possible to make changes to the treaty in order to only to tighten eurozone rules.

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Other member states would want to see modifications in other areas too, he indicated.

"It would also be naive to think one can reform the treaty only in areas Germany considers important," said the Portuguese politician.

The message is a clear rebuke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who alone has been pushing the idea that treaty change is needed to bring budget discipline to the eurozone, rocked in recent months first by the extent of Greece's debt problems and then by the lack of automatic governance rules to deal with the crisis.

"We will not propose treaty modifications even though we are open to good ideas," said Mr Barroso.

Speaking about Ms Merkel's key ideas of strengthening the enforcement of EU budget rules using harsher penalties, Mr Barroso said member states were already considering linking the doling out of EU funds to budget discipline.

But he questioned the legal validity of the German idea to punish serial violators of the rules by removing their voting rights.

"There are already procedures by which states with excessive deficits do not vote. Under constitutional law it would be nearly impossible to do more, in my view," he said.

Lack of leadership

Mr Barroso, who previously has been accused of not being outspoken enough when it comes to large member states, was also unusually frank in his overall assessment of Germany's role in dealing with the Greek crisis.

He accused politicians across the spectrum of the EU's largest member state of not making the case for helping Greece and spelling out the benefits of eurozone membership.

"Germany was until now a big winner from the euro. I find that more politicians in Germany should make that clear."

Referring to the German trade surplus of €134 billion, the commission president asked: "Does the German public know that nearly 86 percent of these 134 billion, i.e., 115 billion, comes from trade in the EU?"

Mr Barroso also accused Berlin of giving the impression at the beginning of the crisis that it did not want to help out Greece at all.

His blunt words follow months of turmoil in the eurozone as it waited for Germany, traditionally the EU's paymaster, to take the lead on how to deal with Athens.

Amid growing criticism, Ms Merkel held out for Athens to impose tougher austerity measures while the markets sensed their was no conviction behind a series of political commitments to come to Greece's rescue.

The chancellor, for her part, had to contend with a German public extremely hostile to the idea of helping Greece.

While Ms Merkel insisted she had to wait until the eurozone was threatened as a way of making sure Germany's contribution to the €750 billion EU/IMF rescue package (€148 billion) would not be challenged in the constitutional court, the tabloid papers appeared to lead the debate with lurid anti-Greek headlines.

Germany's parliament last week agreed the country's share of the bill, but in return, Ms Merkel wants to make sure that such a situation is never allowed to happen again, prompting her talk of modifying the treaty.

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