Germany’s Finance Minister takes aim at the City
Has German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck finally said what many world leaders think but are afraid to say? That the British government won’t sign up to meaningful reform of financial markets because it is too worried about what it would mean for the country’s most famous cash cow, the City of London.
The City, which accounts for around 35 percent of global foreign exchange turnover, has been a popular target for critics of capitalism for years. But it has rarely been singled out so bluntly as a problem by one of Britain’s close allies.
Even for a man not known for holding his tongue, Steinbrueck’s remark on Wednesday that Downing Street was impeding reform because it had “practically aligned” its interests with the City, was unusually undiplomatic. Just days before global leaders meet at a Group of Eight summit in Italy, Steinbrueck suggested the British government was plotting a “restoration” of the pre-crisis order to protect its own interests. The United States, by contrast, was now open to reform, he said.
Rather than attempting to smooth ruffled feathers when she addressed parliament on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel picked up the thread, saying she would not tolerate efforts to stall reform at the G8 summit, though she did not name Britain.
Steinbrueck’s comments generated a strong response on German websites. Though he belongs to the centre-left Social Democrats, many readers of conservative daily Die Welt wrote in to praise him. “Finally the truth”, “genius” and “backbone” were some of the remarks his stance provoked. Across the channel, the most popular reader’s comment posted online in an article by Eurosceptic British newspaper the Daily Mail also backed the 62-year-old. “I’m with the German finance minister,” it begins.
Whether one agrees with his approach or not, Steinbrueck knows he is not talking into a vacuum. Large swathes of the commentariat believe not enough has been done to stabilise financial markets over the long term. Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, wrote on Wednesday that without radical changes, another banking crisis is inevitable.
PHOTO: German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck addresses a news conference in Berlin, May 13, 2009. Steinbrueck said on Wednesday Germany’s interbank lending sector was still suffering from weak confidence. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch