SPIEGEL Interview with Finance Minister Schäuble: 'We Certainly Don't Want to Divide Europe'

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble believes that only further EU integration can save the euro. SPIEGEL spoke with him about how the currency can be strengthened, the hurdles presented by Germany's constitution and what the 27-member club might look like in five years.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: "Our prosperity is at stake." Zoom
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German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: "Our prosperity is at stake."

SPIEGEL: Minister Schäuble, the European Union is mired the worst crisis in its history with the euro threatening to break apart. What is at stake?

Schäuble: Our prosperity. The world, with its globalized economy, is changing at a rapid pace. Those who want to keep up cannot go it alone. It only works in collaboration with other European countries and with a European currency. Otherwise we would fall far behind, and that would lead to a substantial loss of prosperity and societal security.

SPIEGEL: Would the EU survive the collapse of the monetary union?

Schäuble: There is certainly the risk that, in the event of a collapse of the euro -- which, by the way, I don't believe is going to happen -- much of what we have achieved and become fond of would be called into question, from the common domestic market to freedom of travel in Europe. But a collapse of the EU would be absurd. The world is moving closer together, and we're talking about the possibility of each country in Europe going its own way? This cannot, must not and will not happen!

SPIEGEL: Was it a mistake to introduce the euro?

Schäuble: No. The monetary union was the logical consequence of the advancing economic integration of Europe.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the euro is a miscarriage. The necessary political union was absent.

Schäuble: To call it a miscarriage is nonsense. But it's clear that we wanted a political union at the time, but it wasn't possible. Germany would have been prepared to relinquish powers to Brussels, because it was only through Europe that we received a new chance after World War II. But other countries had trouble with the concept, because of special traditions, for example, or because they had only recently regained their national autonomy after the fall of the Iron Curtain. As such, we faced a fundamental question: Do we introduce the euro without having the necessary political union, and do we assume that the euro will bring us closer together, or do we abandon the idea?

SPIEGEL: And in that situation you preferred to take the risk.

Schäuble: If we had always said we would only take steps toward integration if they would immediately work 100 percent, we would never have advanced by so much as a meter. That's why we wanted to introduce the euro first and then quickly make the decisions needed for a political union. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was right when he said, at the time, that the euro would prove to be the father of future European developments.

SPIEGEL: In the meantime, however, the common currency has, above all, powers of destruction.

Schäuble: Now you're exaggerating. Europe has always worked on the basis of two principles: What isn't possible at first will happen over time, and what doesn't work will be corrected over time. That's why perfect solutions take so long in Europe. And that's why we are now improving the architecture of the monetary union.

SPIEGEL: It almost sounds as if you had longed for the crisis so that you could finally correct the birth defects of the euro.

Schäuble: Well, it isn't quite that bad, especially since I don't have a propensity for despair or even resignation. But the more people see what's at stake, the more they are willing to draw the right consequences.

SPIEGEL: What are the consequences that Europe now has to draw?

Schäuble: We need more and not less Europe.

SPIEGEL: You are clearly an advocate of the bicycle theory: Those who don't move fall over.

Schäuble: Yes, of course.

SPIEGEL: But you also seem to suggest that the design is unstable.

Schäuble: Excuse me, but the desire for improvement is a basic condition of human existence. In "Faust," Goethe writes: "If the swift moment I entreat: Tarry a while! You are so fair! Then forge the shackles to my feet, Then I will gladly perish there!" That's how it is.

SPIEGEL: The call for more Europe has become almost as much a classic as "Faust."

Schäuble: Perhaps, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Unfortunately, Europe is complicated, and its structures are such that they inspire only limited confidence in citizens and the financial markets.

SPIEGEL: How do you intend to correct this deficit?

Schäuble: So far, member states have almost always had the final say in Europe. This cannot continue. In key political areas, we have to transfer more powers to Brussels, so that each nation state cannot block decisions.

SPIEGEL: You want nothing less than a United States of Europe.

Schäuble: Even though the term is used repeatedly, it doesn't make it any better. No, the Europe of the future will not be a federal state based on the model of the United States of America or the Federal Republic of Germany. It will have its own structure. It's an extremely exciting venture.

SPIEGEL: It sounds more like a new experiment, not unlike the introduction of the euro. And yet you want to transfer as much power as possible to Europe?

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