SPD sees bailout as a way to exert influence


GERMAN FOREIGN minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is to consider financial assistance to ailing EU economies as a way for Berlin to “consolidate its position [in the EU] for years to come”.

According to a document seen by Der Spiegel magazine, a new working group will soon decide which countries should be offered help, noting Germany has “much to win” from such assistance.

Leading members of Mr Steinmeier’s own Social Democratic Party (SPD) have gone further, indicating that any assistance to Ireland would require “greater humility” from Dublin and a renewed commitment to the EU from Irish voters in a second Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Mr Axel Schäfer, SPD parliamentary spokesman on European affairs, said the key to assistance lay in the “common German and Irish interest” in continuing European integration.

“It can’t be the case that, in a referendum, people say ‘we don’t need Europe, Europe is hindering us’ and then, months later when in difficulty, say, ‘We need help. Where’s Europe?’” said Mr Schäfer. “As [former SPD leader] Kurt Schumacher put it: ‘Democracy is a question of having a good memory.’” Mr Schäfer said it would be “irresponsible” to discuss aid as long as Ireland does not require it, but he insisted that any possible help would be “conditional on obligations in the European context”.

“As Catholics, perhaps it’s time [for the Irish] to remember the expression of Pope John XXIII: ‘Don’t take oneself so seriously’. Sometimes a situation like this is the time to show a little humility.”

The issue of financial assistance to EU partners is of domestic significance in Germany. Mr Steinmeier hopes to use the crisis to boost his profile and help him unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s general election.

Six months before Germany’s general election, SPD analysts suggest a clear party line on providing swift aid to EU states in need as a way of differentiating Mr Steinmeier from Dr Merkel.

The chancellor has spoken in general terms of the need for EU solidarity in the current financial uncertainty, but refuses to be drawn on details of possible assistance to individual countries.

German president Horst Köhler warned yesterday against “political point-scoring” in the upcoming election campaign over the financial crisis and bailouts to other countries.

“Even ahead of the federal elections there is no vacation from government responsibility,” he said. “The crisis is not a backdrop for exhibition bouts. It is a test of democracy itself.” Mr Köhler said the crisis had given Germany a “leading role in Europe” and called for a common EU position in upcoming negotiations on reforming international financial markets. “Let us use the crisis to give new momentum to European unity,” he added.

Last month, German finance minister Peer Steinbrück warned that several euro zone members may experience financial difficulties with “Ireland in a very difficult situation”. Last week a finance spokesman for Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats retracted a claim that EU leaders had agreed to provide an “unlimited amount of money” to bail out ailing euro zone economies.