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June 23, 2017

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Germany's Schaeuble advocates leap in euro integration

ABU DHAB -- German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has called before an EU summit this week for a leap forward in European integration, saying the bloc needs a commissioner with power over member nations' budgets and reform of European Parliament decision-making.

Such reforms would accelerate the trend towards a two-speed Europe whose inner core would be the eurozone, spurred towards closer union by its 3-year-old sovereign debt crisis.

Schaeuble, a longtime advocate of closer EU integration who is not shy about voicing his personal views, said he had spoken to Chancellor Angela Merkel about his proposals and that she was "somewhat more cautious."

"We must now make bigger steps in the direction of a fiscal union," Schaeuble told reporters on his way back from a trip to Asia. "We must use this chance."

Some of Schaeuble's ideas are likely to stir unease even within the eurozone.

He said a new "currency commissioner" should have the power to reject national budgets that were not in line with the bloc's strict fiscal rules, without specifying whether such a figure should have the power to impose penalties.

The model for the position would be the EU's competition commissioner, who Schaeuble said was "feared in the whole world."

He also called for more flexible voting arrangements in the European Parliament to accommodate closer integration between eurozone states.

European officials are looking for ways to boost the democratic legitimacy of a closer union, but have run up against the dilemma that the European Parliament includes countries from outside the eurozone.

"In the European Parliament lawmakers only from countries directly affected by a given issue should vote on it," Schaeuble said.

Such proposals could struggle to win acceptance in countries such as France, reluctant to surrender more sovereignty to EU institutions, while economies such as Greece, reeling from German-backed austerity programs, will be wary of entrenching the power of outsiders to run their financial affairs.

A previous proposal from Schaeuble for a "Sparkommissar," or savings commissioner, was quietly dropped after it stirred fury in Greece and got a cool reception from Germany's other European partners.

European Central Bank board member Joerg Asmussen said he backed Schaeuble's plans to hand more powers to the EU and he particularly supported the proposal to give the "currency commissioner" the right of veto over national budgets if they showed a country was becoming too indebted.

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