Berlin pledges flexibility but wants its efforts recognised

Fri, Mar 2, 2012, 00:00

GERMANY'S VIEW:GERMAN FOREIGN minister Guido Westerwelle has said that Berlin should show greater sensitivity and flexibility towards its European neighbours in the euro zone crisis.

Conceding that Germany’s image has suffered in Europe of late, he argued that Germany’s partners should give greater recognition to the burden Berlin was being asked to shoulder to get Europe back on track.

Mr Westerwelle said it was “wrong” to suggest that Berlin’s reform demands of its partners were too austerity-heavy. His remarks, to the foreign press in Berlin yesterday, betray a frustration among German politicians. Their awareness of the need for patience and understanding with EU partners is increasingly mixed with frustration that these partners do not demonstrate the same understanding for the limits of Germany’s European solidarity.

Yesterday the foreign ministry in Berlin published a new European communication strategy to better explain Germany’s EU policies and counter a “view of the euro crisis dominant in the Anglo-Saxon press”.

“Germany’s economic strength brings with it a certain responsibility and need for sensitivity, that’s what I’m pushing for in Germany,” said Mr Westerwelle. “But the cliche that the Germans are only pushing for austerity is wrong, we know well of the necessity for growth impulses through competitiveness, but we don’t think you fight a debt crisis with debt.”

Berlin is asking no more in reforms elsewhere than it has implemented at home, he said, and the rebound of the German economy was proof to doubters that these reform measures work.

“I don’t want to think where Europe would be if Germany wasn’t as strong as it is now,” said Mr Westerwelle. “It’s only because we have such strong shoulders that we we can carry so much and show such exemplary German solidarity. I am proud of my people that they are showing so much solidarity with their own tax money.”

On Ireland’s upcoming stability treaty vote, Mr Westerwelle said he was confident that Irish voters would back the proposals. “I think the Irish Government will work hard so that people say yes to a package they negotiated, which is good for all European countries,” he said. “But the rules are clear: if the package is rejected, then no funds are available from the package.”

German officials say a rejection of the inter-governmental treaty would have more practical than political consequences for Ireland in the EU.

“There’s no limbo for EU members,” said Dr Michael Meister, finance spokesman in parliament for Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “A no from the Irish, which we would greatly regret, would not lead to being thrown out of the euro zone or the EU. But future assistance from the [permanent] ESM bailout fund would not be possible. This has to be considered in Ireland.”

Ireland’s decision to hold a referendum has been widely welcomed in Germany. The best-selling Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet described the decision as “Enda’s Good Deed” and said a yes vote was “very likely”.