France declares austerity over as Germany offers wiggle room

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici declared the era of austerity over after his German counterpart offered flexibility on deficit cutting amid renewed bickering between Europe’s two biggest economies.

“We’re witnessing the end of the dogma of austerity” as the only tool to fight the euro debt crisis, Moscovici said yesterday on Europe 1 radio. “We’ve been pleading for a growth policy for a year. Austerity on its own impedes growth.”

The gap between the French Socialist finance chief’s view and the election-year positioning of Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble underscores the divergence between their economies and the wrangling that has marked the crisis fight since Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as French leader a year ago.

Coalition lawmakers in Germany are pushing back against the two-year extension for France to meet European Union deficit rules floated by Olli Rehn, the EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner.

“We made it clear to our government, the chancellor and finance minister that in the case of France a one-year delay to 2014 to fulfill the euro’s deficit rules is the absolute limit for us,” Norbert Barthle, budget-policy spokesman for Schaeuble’s Christian Democratic Union, said in a May 3 telephone interview from his constituency in southwestern Germany. “France must show that it’s willing to tackle structural reforms.”

Merkel’s Campaign

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel campaigning for a third term in a Sept. 22 vote, policy making among Europe’s elected leaders has ground to a crawl, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi set to take the initiative. The risk is that they’ll back off policies needed to spur competitiveness and restore growth.

Europe must compete with countries like China and India, Merkel said during a discussion with high-school students in Berlin today.

“That’s why it’s not about what people always say: To save or not to save,” Merkel said. “We in Europe have to see that we finally get by with what we earn. Those are my analyses. Some may see it differently.”

She said talking about austerity policy sometimes leads people to forget that euro nations signed up to a binding treaty that limits debt and budget deficits.

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