Europe

Helmut Schmidt bemoans German and EU leadership

  • 7 December 2010
  • From the section Europe
Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, at a memorial service for his wife Loki in Hamburg, 1 November
Mr Schmidt remains one of Germany's most popular former leaders

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has accused his country's current leaders of failing to grasp modern international finance.

Criticising Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, he also said the EU lacked leaders capable of crisis management.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was an exception, he suggested, but his country was "too small".

Mr Schmidt further accused Germany's central bank of being "reactionary".

As chancellor in 1979, the former Social Democrat leader was an architect of the European Monetary System, which linked EU currencies and was a key step on the path to the euro.

Now approaching his 92nd birthday, he is one of Germany's most respected elder statesmen, his status as one of Germany's most popular chancellors since the war underpinned by opinion polls.

There was no immediate reaction from the German government to his remarks.

'Learning on the job'

Mr Schmidt told Handelsblatt newspaper he did not want to say "anything negative" about Mrs Merkel or Mr Schaeuble, both of whom are Christian Democrats - the Social Democrats' traditional chief rival in German politics.

"But we need people in high office who understand the economic world of today," the former chancellor said.

"The present German government is composed of people who are learning their business on the job," he argued.

"They have no previous experience in world political affairs or in world economic affairs."

While Mr Schaeuble had a good understanding of budgetary and taxation problems, Mr Schmidt went on, both he and Mrs Merkel were unfamiliar with "international money markets or capital markets or the banking system or the supervision of banks or shadow banks".

Turning to the EU as a whole, he said it was too early to comment on the UK's new government but "in general, Europe lacks leaders".

Jean-Claude Juncker was singled by Mr Schmidt as a good leader

"It lacks people in high positions in the national states or in the European institutions with sufficient overview of domestic and international questions and sufficient power of judgment," he said.

"There are a few exceptions such as Juncker of Luxembourg, but Luxembourg is a bit too small to play a substantial role."

Good EU leaders had become scarce, he said, since Jacques Delors left office (1994) as president of the European Commission.

"He has been replaced by people whose name one doesn't really know," said Mr Schmidt.

"And the same goes for... what is his name - [European Council president Herman] Van Rompuy, and he has a so-called foreign secretary - a British lady [Baroness Ashton], her name is not necessary to know either.

"The same goes, more or less, for the European Parliament."

'Reactionaries'

One of the few other figures to make an impression on Mr Schmidt was European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet.

"I'm not sure how strong he is inside the European Central Bank, but as far as I can see, he hasn't made a major mistake so far," Mr Schmidt said.

On German banking, he accused the Bundesbank of being "in their innermost heart... reactionaries" who opposed European integration.

"They tend to act and react too much under the aspect of national interests and haven't understood the strategic necessity of European integration," he said.

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