Merkel rival says austerity in euro zone too severe


Former German finance minister Peer Steinbrück, who is running against Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s election, said austerity measures being imposed on struggling euro zone countries were too severe.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Mr Steinbrück said austerity measures were pushing some countries to do too much too soon. He said there would be massive protests in Germany if such a heavy dose of austerity were to be imposed so quickly.

“The savings measures are too severe, they’re leading to depression,” said Mr Steinbrück (65), a Social Democrat who was finance minister from 2005 to 2009 in Dr Merkel’s right-centre grand coalition government.

“Some societies are being forced to their knees. Budget consolidation is in some ways like medicine. The right amount can save lives while too much can be lethal.”

Mr Steinbrück noted that some countries were being forced to make spending cuts that amounted to 5 per cent of their gross domestic product.

“In Germany that would amount to €150 billion [of spending to be cut],” Mr Steinbrück said. “You can imagine what the protests would be like on German streets with that.”

German responsibility

Mr Steinbrück said he and the centre-left SPD were clearly in favour of efforts to stabilise the euro zone – partly because of German national interests and also because of Germany’s responsibility to the European Union.

“My advice to the SPD is that we shouldn’t treat the European issue in the election campaign as a minor topic or without being courageous,” Mr Steinbrück said, referring to fears in the SPD that talking about the euro zone rescue efforts would benefit Dr Merkel more than the SPD.

“Europe has to be stabilised out of our national interests and out of our responsibility to Europe.” – (Reuters)