Tuesday 15 October 2019

Merkel proposes ‘solidarity fund’ to aid struggling EU members

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Stephen Brown and Madeline Chambers

ANGELA Merkel has proposed a European Union "solidarity" fund to help struggling member countries, saying stability is taking hold after three years of crisis in the euro area.

Addressing German lower-house lawmakers hours before EU leaders meet in Brussels today, Merkel laid out her vision for a Europe with closer financial cooperation, budgetary policy and more common economic policies. Alongside would be a fund “limited in time and project-based” and possibly stocked by the proposed financial transaction tax, she said.

Merkel’s calls for a fund came as Germany and several other EU countries seek stronger central powers to intervene when member states break budget rules.

In a speech to the lower house of parliament this morning hours before EU leaders meet today, the chancellor put herself on a collision course with French Socialist President Francois Hollande and others, who are reluctant to cede sovereignty over fiscal policy and want the ECB to get new banking watchdog powers by year-end.

"We are of the opinion - and I speak for the whole German government on this - that we could go a step further by giving Europe real rights of intervention in national budgets," she said, voicing support for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's idea of a European "currency commissioner".

Such a move would require a referendum in Ireland and some other member states.

On banking supervision, she said quality must come before speed, reiterating her view that rushing to meet a January 2013 target date for giving the European Central Bank new powers was a recipe for disaster.

Merkel also made clear that funnelling aid directly to European banks from the bloc's new rescue mechanism, the ESM, could not happen until the new supervisory body was fully operational.

"I want to be clear that completion of the legal process for banking supervision is not enough in itself," she said. "This banking supervision must be able to work and act effectively."

After her speech, in which Merkel reiterated her desire to keep Greece in the euro zone, her main challenger in next year's German election, Social Democrat (SPD) Peer Steinbrueck, launched a withering attack on her crisis management.

"It was a grave mistake that you allowed your coalition to launch a bullying campaign against Greece's membership in the euro zone. You didn't intervene, you didn't speak out for Europe and you vacillated," he said, thumping his fist on the podium.

"Neither (former conservative chancellor) Helmut Kohl nor any of your predecessors would have allowed a European neighbour to be abused for domestic political purposes like that."

Merkel stared glumly ahead and did not respond to the feisty attack.

In her speech, she said that giving more powers over national budgets to European authorities would require beefing up the European Parliament to provide full democratic legitimacy.

She said concerns about a "two-tier" Europe should not prevent a discussion about limiting participation in debates on euro zone issues to the 17 states in the currency, rather than the full 27-member EU represented in the parliament.

Merkel also praised the efforts of struggling euro zone states to cut debt and deficits and improve competitiveness and said she had sensed a "strong desire for change" in Greece on her recent visit to Athens.

But the chancellor said it was up to Spain to decide whether it should seek further aid from the euro zone after agreeing on a €100 billion programme to recapitalise its banks.

"It is Spain's decision alone whether and how much aid it needs on top of (the banking rescue) from the ESM," she said.

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