Austerity on the menu as Van Rompuy dines with Merkel

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that austerity had ‘reached its limits’ in Europe provides backdrop to meeting

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said there was “absolutely no dissent” between Berlin and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso on austerity measures. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said there was “absolutely no dissent” between Berlin and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso on austerity measures. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Thu, Apr 25, 2013, 07:00

Asparagus was on the menu in Berlin when European Council president Herman Van Rompuy met Chancellor Angela Merkel for dinner last night. The table talk soon turned to European Commission president José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that austerity had “reached its limits” in Europe because of dropping social support.

Europe had many “technocratic advisers” who devise “perfect models” to respond to difficult situations, Mr Barroso said, but who feel no responsibility for their implementation.

On the “implementation and acceptance” front in the euro zone crisis, Mr Barroso conceded, EU institutions and member states had “not done everything right” to build acceptance.

In private, leading government figures in Germany took a dim view of Mr Barroso’s remarks, interpreting them as a shot across Berlin’s bow.

In public, however, Dr Merkel’s spokesman insisted there was “absolutely no dissent” between Berlin and the commission president. He pointed out that the commission president had also said in Brussels that debt-fuelled growth was not sustainable.

“That is something that we would sign on the spot, it’s something we have signed and it remains correct,” the spokesman said.

“The government remains convinced that . . . we need both a determined policy of consolidation – which means reduction of deficit and new borrowing – and a reform programme among member states.

As leading Berlin officials vented frustrations privately, foot-soldiers in Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union aired their criticisms in public.

CDU Bundestag budgetary spokesman Norbert Barthle said allowing greater leeway on debt, as proposed for struggling EU economies, would “damage the credibility” of the EU.

“Turning away from strict budgetary consolidation would be a disastrous signal that we don’t mean it seriously with our reform efforts,” he said.