An end to cut, cut, cut? Merkel and Sarkozy agree to focus on growth.
In a Berlin meeting today, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy signaled a major shift in eurozone economic strategy by making growth a priority in managing the economic crisis.
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Merkel was anxious to avoid the impression German money was being used to prop up European economies who spent beyond their means, but analysts and politicians have for some time argued that imposing austerity programs on struggling economies like Greece was a sure way to drive them into default. Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told a recent meeting of German business leaders that "no other developed country with a debt rate like Greece's has ever been able to solve its problems through austerity." What these countries needed, Schmidt said, was investment in jobs and infrastructure.Skip to next paragraph
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Before today's meeting, Sarkozy announced that France would go ahead with the introduction of a so-called financial transaction tax, a levy on share trading which is supported by Germany and a number of other European countries, but strongly opposed by Britain and the US, who fear such a tax could damage their financial sectors. Germany has argued that the tax should be introduced in a harmonized move across Europe.
Sarkozy’s foray is seen by many as an attempt to raise his profile ahead of French presidential elections in April.
“It looks like a courageous move,” says Rupertus Rothenhäuser of Maquarie Group, a fund management service in Frankfurt. “But a financial transaction tax will damage markets and banks in France.”
Monday’s talks in Berlin were meant to start preparations for yet another EU summit at the end of January. Merkel and Sarkozy intend to have a treaty on the creation of a fiscal union signed by March 1. The agreement on such a union, reached at a Brussels summit in December, envisages a system in which eurozone member states adhere to certain budgetary targets controlled and enforced by a central authority.
But creating this union will take months, if not years. Meanwhile Italy and Spain both face a number of bond auctions in the coming weeks, and uncertainty about the future of the eurozone will drive up the borrowing costs for these countries.
“Europe needs the fiscal union, no doubt,” says Norbert Walter, former chief economist with Deutsche Bank. “The European Central Bank cannot for ever save Europe by buying bonds of ailing economies. But I don’t think the financial markets will give the eurozone much time. Certainly not until March.”