Ahead of the G20 finance ministers conference, Germany's Wolfgang Schäuble will host a last-minute meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He discussed the prospect of working with the new US administration.
In a special Q&A session with the foreign press in Berlin, Wolfgang Schäuble characterized the state of play for international collaboration as difficult in the run-up to the G20 finance ministers' conference in Baden-Baden on March 17 and 18. One of the biggest questions is how the new US administration under President Donald Trump, who has taken protectionist positions and come out in favor of financial deregulation, will work together with the international community.
Schäuble said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had accepted a standing invitation for bilateral talks and would be coming in Berlin on March 15 and 16. (German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be meeting Trump on March 14 in Washington.) Schäuble said he and Mnuchin would discuss the usual range of financial topics as they get to know one another personally. But the finance minister - a political veteran who gained his first government posting all the way back in 1984 - also left no doubt that the Trump administration will take some getting used to.
"The election in the US had a lot of elements that were very unfamiliar, to put it politely, to people in Europe and in Germany and that we wouldn't want to imitate," Schäuble said. "The [United] States voted, and we'll work with the people they elected as well as possible. International cooperation will continue."
Schäuble said "communication functions a bit differently in the US" and added that not all Trump administration statements reported in the media should be accepted at face value. But, when pressed on the issue of deregulation, he said Berlin would continue to advocate checks on financial markets.
"The government, through the finance minister, has clearly stated that stability risks in the financial sector should be minimized by global agreements," Schäuble said. "That's the lesson from the terrible events of half a decade ago, when the Lehman Brothers collapse brought the world to the brink of a financial collapse."
Schäuble didn't directly comment on reports that his government had rebuffed requests for bilateral talks about Germany's massive trade surplus with the United States. But he did say the government hadn't "manipulated" markets, and insisted that the proper comparison was between the US and the European Union - not the US and Germany.
No cherry-picking for Britain
One of the main points on the agenda at the finance ministers' conference - a prelude to the G20 summit of the world's leading economic nations in Hamburg on July 7 and 8 - is how to help Africa. But the attention at Schäuble's press conference was focused firmly on the European Union and especially Britain's exit from it.
Schäuble said he didn't think the Brexit would fundamentally reduce London's engagement with the rest of the world.
"Theresa May has said on many occasions that Great Britain doesn't want to withdraw into isolationism," Schäuble said. "They want a global concept of British politics."
Schäuble spoke of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union as a foregone conclusion, but reiterated that Westminister would not be allowed to cherry-pick in negotiating a new relationship with the bloc.
Calls for a pragmatic Europe
Schäuble underscored the importance of strength and solidarity among the 27 remaining EU member states vis-a-vis the Brexit and other challenges. At the same time, he acknowledged that the EU needs to be able to show concrete achievements to head off the threat of right-wing and left-wing populism.
"We shouldn't be engaging in fundamental, technical debates," Schäuble said. "The decisive thing is that the EU now finds better solutions to a couple of central problems quickly and efficiently. Results and efficiency are what is decisive. Nearly everything else is of secondary importance. We need to be pragmatic."
Schäuble cited migration, internal and external and security, and conflicts in Eastern Europe as examples.
When asked whether he would be in favor of debt forgiveness for Greece, which has struggled to meet EU financial stability rules and has needed multiple monetary bailouts, Schäuble took something of a hard line.
"The Greek authorities - the government and the parliament - should abide by what has been agreed with the government," Schäuble said.
Harsher words for Erdogan
Schäuble saved his sternest warnings for Turkey. The finance minister said President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan's recent comparison of present-day Germany with the Nazi regime would make it very difficult for the two countries to maintain normal relations in trade and otherwise.
"We cannot accept that Germany is talked about in this way," an emotional Schäuble said. "But even worse is that Turkish officials, from the president on down, are responsible for making the lives of people in Germany more difficult."
Turkish officials have been campaigning in Germany in hopes of winning support in a constitutional referendum that would give Erdogan broad additional powers. Critics say the referendum would end democracy in Turkey.
Schäuble accused both Turkey and Russia of trying to influence public opinion with fake news and said Berlin would not accept any attempts to disrupt people's peaceful coexistence in Germany.