German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is something of an enigma. An austere, occasionally severe man who also likes a game of Sudoku while his colleagues debate the fate of Greece—an issue on which he has some rather pungent opinions, if the Greeks do say so themselves. A business-friendly conservative who thinks that taxing financial transactions is close to a moral obligation that, like other German mores, can eventually be imposed on others.
The inscrutable Herr Schäuble is in Washington, meeting with his colleagues at the International Monetary Fund. This means lots of meeting, lots of interviews and a lot less in the way of enjoyable math puzzles. Still, he’s not above spinning a head-scratcher of his own: Now is not the time to be pushing for further European integration, but here’s a really good idea for further integration.
"Given the current situation, it is not realistic to think that we can take further steps towards deepening European integration at the moment," he said on Thursday on the sidelines of International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington.
"We need to respond to urgent questions in a way that is visibly European, and we need to find European solutions to acute problems," he added, "We need flexible speeds, variable groupings of countries, 'coalitions of the willing', whatever you want to call it in a particular situation."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Thursday it would be possible to develop the euro zone's European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue fund into a European monetary fund soon.
Asked if this would be possible in the short term, Schaeuble replied: "Yes, I think so."
The dialectic continued, as Europe’s grim financial schoolmaster made clear he’d continue to dole out the blame, but accept none of it himself.
Mr. Schäuble blamed Germany’s trade surpluses in part on the policies of the European Central Bank. He also attributed the economic problems of some eurozone countries on their failure to implement “unpleasant reforms.”
“We simply have too much debt,” Mr. Schäuble said. He urged governments to gradually reduce debt levels and move away from a reliance on credit-financed consumption.
“The ultraloose monetary policy in place in many regions is not helpful,” he added.
He’s also not too worried about President Trump’s refusal to shake his boss’s hand, although he admits he’s a little perplexed by it. Still, let’s just chalk it up to the Donald being the second coming of Silvio Berlusconi and move on.
Schaeuble called that moment a "strange situation," but said it was "totally wrong" to read into that awkward event. Merkel and Trump's meeting was one of "mutual confidence," he said.
Germany's finance chief said, " I'm ready to discuss every bit of fact, but you can only give advice on the basis of the facts."
Germany’s Schaeuble wants EU ‘coalitions of the willing’ after Brexit [Reuters]
Germany’s Schauble: ESM could turn into European monetary fund [Reuters]
Schäuble Defends Germany’s Trade Surplus [WSJ]
Germany’s finance chief downplays tense US-German relations [CNBC]