Voters want answers to urgent problems, says Schäuble

Success of France’s FN party a failure of European politics, says German finance minister

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble: “In my own party I am sometimes seen as too romantic, pro-European from the last century, which is nonsense.” Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble: “In my own party I am sometimes seen as too romantic, pro-European from the last century, which is nonsense.” Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has dubbed the election success of France’s “fascist, extremist” National Front a failure of European – not just French – politics.

With EU leaders in Brussels yesterday to begin talks on the EU’s top jobs, Dr Schäuble warned that Europe’s voters wanted concrete answers to urgent problems and not an extended period of horse-trading. “We all have to have in mind what mistakes we have made that a quarter of the [French] electorate voted for . . . a fascist, extremist party,” said Dr Schäuble.

“The European election has given a lot of incentive for everyone to think about what we can do better for everyone in Europe.”

After his own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) posted its worst ever European election result, Dr Schäuble appeared to agree with critics who accused the party of running a campaign focused on chancellor Angela Merkel’s personality rather than debating competing policy promises by rival political camps.

“The problem with this campaign has been that . . . it was about pro-European or Eurosceptic positions,” said Dr Schäuble. “As long as this is the major issue in a campaign there is no difference to be seen in the substance.”

He predicted that the coming EU term would offer no respite from reform, with euro members “condemned to increase integration, in fiscal and economic policy”.

“In my own party I am sometimes seen as too romantic, pro-European from the last century, which is nonsense,” he said. “Others say Europe is becoming too German, which is also nonsense. What we have to achieve is a Europe that is strong enough to remain relevant in the global dimension.”

Listening mode Meanwhile, officials close to the chancellor insisted she would be in listening mode in Brussels. She will need all of her famous caution in the upcoming game of political quid pro quo. Of Berlin’s many priorities, one is to keep David Cameron on side: the British prime minister wants to thwart Jean-Claude Juncker’s ambitions to become commission president while Dr Merkel wants Mr Cameron to prevent Germany’s Euro-critical Alternative für Deutschland joining his Tories’ reformist bloc in parliament.

In addition, the German leader knows she can only agree a jobs package that doesn’t alienate her own Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners in Berlin, who backed Martin Schulz.

With weeks of horse-trading ahead, initial speculation is that Mr Schulz could be offered the consolation prize of EU foreign policy chief. Another early proposal floating around the German capital: the main conservative and socialist blocs agree to co-operate against newly-elected Eurosceptic MEPs in a European parliament grand coalition. Call it the “Berlin solution”.