Published in the December issue of the Magazine "Deutschland"
Minister, for many months now Europe has been engaged in financial policy crisis management – what will a sustainable solution look like?
We are now developing the European Union into a stability union. That is what we agreed at the European Council on 9 December 2011. Almost all member states of the European Union committed themselves to observing the stability criteria by showing, for example, increased thrift and greater budgetary discipline. A European Commission with stronger powers will monitor this and be able to intervene if the common rules are infringed. I am confident that we can thereby regain the trust in our common currency and permanently stabilize the euro.
What concrete – and effective – measures can be applied to members of the European Union that break the stability rules in the future?
If a euro country infringes the common rules – for example, through excessive borrowing – sanctions will be automatically applied. The European Commission will accordingly only be able to intervene on the basis of objective criteria. The euro countries are thus demonstrating their commitment to a strict stability policy independent of the political situation and the respective economic circumstances. National debt brakes will limit future new borrowing to a minimum. These are the decisive steps towards the stability union for which we have worked jointly with France.
Financial stability is one point, but how can the competitiveness of theEU countries also be strengthened at the same time?
Increases in competitiveness can be achieved within a currency union by raising efficiency and improving productivity. Germany has implemented such reforms in recent years. That is one of the reasons why we are in a better position today than many of our partners in Europe.
What political opportunities does the crisis present for the European Union? Are the countries moving closer together or moving further apart?
We must seize the opportunity that the crisis offers for Europe to grow even closer together. The intensified cooperation that has now been agreed in the key areas of fiscal and economic policy will have spillover effects on all other policy areas. Europe will grow even closer together as a result.
The concepts of a “core Europe” and “two-speed Europe” are again being discussed since the United Kingdom broke ranks at the EU summit. What is your stance on this subject?
I regret that the United Kingdom does not currently wish to follow our path towards a stability union. However, that must not hold the remaining 26 EU countries back in their decision to move towards deeper cooperation. I consider it crucial that the door remains open for the United Kingdom. Our British partners can join the stability union at any time. The UK financial market is just as dependent on a stable euro as Germany. I am certain that London would like to continue playing an active role in the European Union in the future.
On several occasions you have called for a “broad and transparent discussion” on amending the European treaties. Has the question of Europe become too much a subject for an elite? How can that be changed?
I consider it important that we conduct a debate about the future of the European Union throughout the whole of Europe. I would also like to make a very conscious contribution here. During my travels through Europe I seek direct contact with citizens and, for example, regularly present lectures for young people. We must hold Europe dear to our heart and shape it with dedication, because in times of globalization we can only go forward together.
Some seem to have gained the impression that German interests are different from European interests. How do you answer such criticism?
Germany is not alone in its desire for a more robust fiscal and economic policy in the European Union. The fact that 26 EU member states agreed on 9 December 2011 to set out together on the path towards a stability union shows that our goals receive broad support.
German regulatory policy principles have become more firmly anchored in the eurozone in recent months. Doesn’t that involve the danger that Germany is perceived too much as a strict taskmaster? Is Germany’s image suffering in the debt crisis?
As the largest economy in the European Union, Germany bears a special responsibility towards Europe. We have actively assumed this responsibility in the euro crisis. That also fulfils the expectations that the EU partner countries have of Germany. We have always acted transparently and underlined that we attach importance to cooperation with all 26 EU partners.
Is there a danger that the European ideal will recede into the background?
We must not forget during the current crisis that Europe is the compass of German policy. Our goal remains a political union of Europe – with open borders, with an attractive and unique European way of life, with cultural magnetism, economic growth and political appeal. We must work towards this goal.