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German finance minister censures von der Leyen for EU’s ‘lost years’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in a media conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, April 10, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Germany’s Finance Minister Christian Lindner has blamed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for overseeing Europe’s “lost years.”

“The past few years under the responsibility of a commission led by Ursula von der Leyen have been lost years for competitiveness,” Lindner told reporters upon arrival for a Luxembourg meeting of Eurozone finance and economy ministers.

“Unfortunately, Ursula von der Leyen did not use her term in office to strengthen the European economy, rather setting other priorities.”

"We must now catch up all the more in the coming months and years. Economic strength is also a factor in geopolitics," Lindner said.

EU member states have frequently complained about high energy prices, environmental rules, and unfair competition regulations amid added costs and bureaucracy.

Farmers, in particular, have been protesting against EU agricultural policies, increased production costs, higher taxation and lower incomes, and reduced diesel benefits, making it difficult for them to survive.

Lindner told journalists ahead of the meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg that to ameliorate the EU economy the bloc needed to create a "capital markets union" to ensure Europe had all the funds it needed to push ahead with its programs.

"What we don't need is new European community debt," Lindner said, warning that the EU’s leadership was aiming to persuade the members states to finance new subsidies with which politicians want to use to regulate the economy.

"What we don’t need is new European community debt to finance new subsidies with which politicians want to steer the economy,” Lindner told reporters on Thursday ahead of the meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Luxembourg.

France has said its deficit will be wider than anticipated and the Italian government gave forecasts showing its mammoth debt rising in the next few years. That in turn has sparked concerns about whether EU states will be able to stick to new budget rules approved last year.

“I think these new rules will help all member states maintain sound public finances or to return to sound public finances,” Lindner said. 

“The current developments show it’s not for granted to see lower deficit, we all have to make efforts as finance ministers to reduce deficits and to exit these crisis measures we have introduced over the past years.”

Lindner leads the center-right economically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) of Germany which is allied with the German government's ruling coalition.

Von der Leyen, who belongs to the opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union, hopes to be re-elected this year for another five years as the president of the European Commission.

However, some of her colleagues have questioned her recent decisions while criticizing her management style, saying her views rely on the advice of her advisers, noting that sometimes she rushes in decision-making, using little consultation.

In related news, the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said EU finance chiefs needed to devise new ways to fund for a full-fledged war in Europe.

“War is certainly looming around us. A high-intensity, conventional war in Europe is no longer a fantasy,” the EU's top diplomat revealed on Tuesday.

Borrell said Europeans must find new ways to financially prepare for a potentially wider war on the continent.

“War is certainly looming around us (…), and a high-intensity, conventional war in Europe is no longer a fantasy”,” Borrell said in a speech at an economic forum in Brussels.

EU leaders are scheduled to meet in Brussels next week to review the plans devised to supply the needed funds.

The EU economy has been in a state of stagnation for the last year and a half, with the fall-out from the Ukraine-Russia war hitting EU energy supplies and spurring a period of high inflation, mounting added pressure on the EU economy already hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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