German minister ready to take over

Germany’s finance minister has made it clear that he is prepared to become chairman of the so-called eurogroup, a position that involves chairing eurozone finance ministers’ regular meetings.

BERLIN — Germany’s finance minister has made it clear that he is prepared to become chairman of the so-called eurogroup, a position that involves chairing eurozone finance ministers’ regular meetings.

Wolfgang Schaeuble has frequently been linked to the job, and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker — who says he won’t seek another term leading the eurogroup — has described him as an “ideal candidate.”

Schaeuble has told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that national leaders must decide, but noted that “as German finance minister, I have to get strongly involved anyway” in eurozone matters.

“That is why I am not saying that I can’t under any circumstances take over the chairmanship, as others have done,” he was quoted as saying in comments published Sunday.

“And I haven’t heard that my colleagues are saying: my God, not Schaeuble.”

The eurogroup job, along with several other positions including the leadership of the eurozone’s permanent rescue fund, is among issues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to thrash out with incoming French President Francois Hollande.

Merkel will welcome Hollande to Berlin on Tuesday, with attention centring on their differences over how to overcome the eurozone debt crisis.

Hollande has criticized the austerity drive Merkel has championed and called for a greater focus on growth.

German officials have insisted that a Merkel-pushed budget-discipline pact, the so-called fiscal compact, must stand.

“Just as elections and changes of government are normal procedure, it is normal that treaties which have been concluded remain valid after elections,” Schaeuble was quoted as saying.

“That goes for the fiscal compact as well.”

Schaeuble said Germany will listen to Hollande’s proposals with respect, and stressed that it is also interested in growth, but underlined its resistance to stimulus programs financed by new borrowing.

“Higher debts don’t lead to more growth,” he said. “But it would make sense to focus European programs more strongly,” for instance by using them to encourage vocational training, he added.

“Young people’s job opportunities must be more important than more and more highways,” Schaeuble said.

The finance minister also underlined Germany’s continuing resistance to jointly guaranteed government bonds, or Eurobonds, and to the European Central Bank printing money to finance government debt.

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