Exclusive Interview: Jürgen Trittin On Angela Merkel’s European Policy And The Future Of Europe

trittinAngela Merkel’s European policy has so far not succeeded in solving the Eurozone crisis and has been widely criticised across Europe. The recent Italian election has again shown the level of discontent with Europe’s political direction. If you are part of the next German government what would you like to change in the German European policy approach? Would you change the current austerity policy that is widely viewed as the main reason for Europe’s bad economic performance?

The crisis is not, as Mrs. Merkel wants us to believe, the result of excessive state debts, but is due to a crashed banking system that increased the level of debt of banks and private households. The fact that governments all over Europe had to bail out the ailing banking sector led to an increase of state debts. The second cause of the crisis are the economic imbalances between the member states of the Eurozone. Obviously, the Chancellor ignores these root causes of the crisis and rather continues to impose strict austerity policies. I do believe that we need sound fiscal and budgetary policies throughout the EU-member states. However, the recession many EU member states are facing and the alarming increase of unemployment rates in the southern and some eastern European states, especially among young people, show that austerity alone is the wrong way out of the crisis. We desperately need more investments in sustainable growth and education in order to create jobs and offer a perspective for young people in Europe. But the recent compromise on the long-term EU budget, pushed for by Mrs. Merkel, shows that the priority is again given to big agro businesses rather than to investments in growth and jobs. This is a worrying development and the wrong policy for the future of the EU. In the course of the negotiations on the European fiscal treaty we forced the government to impose a Financial Transaction Tax and increase investments. A new government in Germany would certainly stick to this approach: solving the debt crisis not by austerity measures but by an European tax pact that strengthens the income side of the state budgets and thus gives more room for investments in sustainable growth and education.

Angela Merkel often talks about the need for Eurozone crisis countries to adjust their competitiveness, i.e. prices and wages. A balance of payments crisis is often regarded as the key underlying structural problem of the Eurozone. But in this context both deficit and surplus countries play an important role. What do you think surplus countries such as Germany need to do in order to help overcome the Eurozone crisis? Are higher wages and a legal minimum wage in Germany part of the solution?

There is no way around it: we need to reduce the economic imbalances within the Eurozone. This includes both deficit and surplus countries like Germany. 25% of Germany’s export surplus was generated in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. So for years Germany has benefitted from a policy of economic imbalances at the expense of deficit states that consequently had to face a downturn and in turn an increase of their state debt, which led to the current crisis. Solving the structural problems within the Eurozone is therefore in Germany’s own best interest. It is important to strengthen the competitiveness in the deficit states and at the same time increase the domestic demand in Germany, for example by implementing a legal minimum wage. Germany is one of the last countries without a minimum wage in Europe. Furthermore, the EU needs to evolve into a real economic and monetary union. A common currency without strongly coordinated economic, financial and fiscal policies just won’t work. We have to reduce our state debts in Europe, impose strong regulation of the financial markets and establish a common, effective banking supervision as well as an European pact against tax evasion.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently given a speech in which he demanded a special deal for the United Kingdom in the changing European Union. What is your reaction to his speech? Can there be a special deal for a single country? Or would this be the beginning of the end for the European Union as every member state would then seek to opt-out of the aspects of the Union they don’t like, making the EU effectively ungovernable? What solution for this problem do you see? Could the future of the EU be a multi-speed Europe with the Eurozone at its core and a second tier of non-Euro member states?

The truth is, the way out of the crisis can only be achieved by more integration and more coordinated policies on the European level. It is not acceptable that David Cameron obviously wants to benefit from the advantages of a common European market but is not willing to contribute to a more integrated Europe. I would be happy to see a pro-active and constructive role of Great Britain concerning the future of Europe, but in the end it is the British citizens who will have to decide whether to stay in the EU and integrate further or not.

Where do you see the European Union ten years from now?

Ten years from now, the states in crisis have hopefully recovered and we have implemented a real economic and monetary union in the EU. The regulation of the financial markets with an effective banking supervision and an imposed Financial Transaction Tax will be useful measures to avoid another crisis in the Eurozone and to make the responsible players take a share of the costs of the crisis. The EU will be on its way towards a sustainable economy based on renewable energies and resource efficient production. Most importantly, ten years from now, the European Union will hopefully be stronger than ever, economically, but also politically and democratically. For the Green Party, it is crucial to strengthen democratic participation and control of political decisions by a stronger European Parliament. We as Greens stand for a stronger and integrated European Union. To achieve this goal, we also need to shift national competences to the European level in order to obtain more political sovereignty. All this can only be done by triggering a broad public debate on what kind of European Union we want and by making people participate in the debates and decisions on Europe.