Former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has called for giving the European Union more clout to set finance policy and ending the unanimity requirement in blocwide decision-making.
The call by Schäuble, who was the face of Germany's push for indebted EU countries to pass stringent austerity measures, comes amid a debate between Germany and France about how far EU finance reforms should go.
Schäuble's key points:
Speaking to regional public broadcaster rbb, Schäuble said:
- The European Union needs a common budget; it needs to bundle revenues and more finance policy competencies before member states agree to create the post of EU finance minister.
- Only once EU member states agree to these changes would the post make sense: "As long as you don't have this, a finance minister alone doesn't make sense. Because then the position is just symbolic without any powers."
- The bloc should also give up on the requirement that all member states agree on joint decisions: "Unanimity means the slowest [member state] can block everything."
- Instead, a majority or qualified majority — 55 percent of member states that account for 65 percent of the total EU population — should suffice for a joint agreement.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU) would agree to these reforms.
Who is Wolfgang Schäuble?
The longtime CDU operative is president of the German parliament, the Bundestag. As finance minister from 2009 until 2017, he led Germany's efforts to avert a Greek default and was a strong advocate for austerity measures in other indebted EU countries. His influence in European politics at the time earned him praise and notoriety, most notably in Greece.
Macron's vision, Germany's 'apathy'
France and Germany have been debating EU finance reforms since shortly after the election of French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Macron wants the eurozone — the 19 EU countries that use the euro as their common currency — to have a common budget and finance minister. Although open to the idea, Germany and other northern eurozone countries have been reluctant to go as far as Macron would like to. France is disappointed with Germany for dragging its feet on this aspect of reform.
How does EU unanimity work?
Today, the Council of the EU, where member state ministers sit, must unanimously agree on a decision if it affects the following areas: finance policy, foreign and security policy, EU expansion, and some aspects of law and order. Only a qualified majority is required for decisions on other policy areas.
By contrast, the European Council, which includes the heads of government or state of all EU countries, must unanimously agree on all decisions, but it has no formal legislative power.