21st Sep 2019

Germany is defending EU taxpayers, minister says

  • Thomas de Maiziere is a close ally of Angela Merkel (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Germany's tough bargaining and reluctance in approving first the Greek, then the eurozone bail-out are helping Europe, as unconditional 'quick money' would have turned out to be even more expensive for taxpayers, according to German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere.

"We think that spending money too early is too expensive. The leap from individual solutions to systemic solutions – what we did during the banking crisis and now with the euro – is a very difficult decision. If you take it too soon, it's an open invitation to speculation," Mr de Maiziere told a group of journalists in Berlin on Wednesday (19 May).

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His arguments come amid mounting criticism both from German opposition parties and other member states at the way Germany has handled the Greek crisis and negotiations over the €750 billion rescue package for the eurozone.

A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her former chief of staff, Mr de Maiziere, was sent to Brussels two weeks ago to replace finance minister Wolfgang Schauble – who was hospitalised - during the negotiations on the package.

The 56-year politician went to great lengths to explain the "monetary stability culture" that is deeply entrenched in the German psyche – an expectation which now is extrapolated to the whole eurozone.

"The whole philosophy of the euro is that you don't help each other, the legal basis says clearly there should be no bail-out. Article 122 allows an exception to this, but only in the case of natural disasters, not for self-inflicted overspending."

"So please have understanding for us for asking what justifies the abolition of this principle. The only reason is that the euro as a whole is in danger. But aid should be given only then when the country clearly commits to fiscal consolidation measures. This is in line with economic thinking, with the EU and German law. This is why we led such tough negotiations in all these matters."

During the talks he was part of, Germany also insisted that the loan guarantees given to other euro-countries should be "according to our rules and ratings, not at an EU average."

"We have better financing possibilities than other states, so if we give guarantees to a country, then we want that country to follow the same requirements Germany would have to meet if it were borrowing money. We don't want to turn the EU into a transfer union," he said, adding that France did not back this position and that was why the meeting went on until 2am.

Mr de Maiziere, whose protestant (Huguenot) noble family fled France in the late 17th century to avoid religious persecution, insisted that the first instinct of a politician when asked for public money should be to reject it.

"Every day companies come to us and say the situation is serious. If we gave money to all of them, Germany and Europe would have gone bust a long time ago. The founding principle of a market economy is that companies are liable for both their profits and losses. The same goes with democratic nation states and you cannot say you are going to use the pretext of a serious situation to break that principle. That's why we don't believe that an early aid would have meant less money, especially if it was unconditional."

Franco-German relations

On the Franco-German relationship, Mr de Maiziere said it continues to be Berlin's most important link in Europe, even if it "respects" other countries such as Great Britain, Italy or Poland.

But even if there are a great deal of "preliminary talks" in most policy fields, Germany also has differences with France, especially when it comes to the interests of central and eastern European states, which Berlin tends to defend more arduously than Paris, who is rather interested in the Mediterranean neighbourhood.

"The chancellor and French president are also each having their own special way to approach problems, depending on their personalities. The combination between quick and thorough helps Europe, in the financial crisis, G20 process, also now in the euro-crisis," Mr de Maiziere argued.

Europe also had to get used to Germany defending more its national interests, which it didn't dare to do overtly in the 1990s. "This political weakness of Germany was convenient for our neighbours and partly also for Germans, because they said we do not have to show that much international responsibility," he explained.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

Catalonia celebrated on Wednesday its national day - while awaiting the trial verdict on 12 Catalan separatists, former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's government. That decision is expected for early October.

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