EU commissioner: Germany won't be sanctioned in surplus probe

ERFURT, Germany Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:10pm GMT

German EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger enters a plenary session of the EU in Copenhagen, January 11, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

German EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger enters a plenary session of the EU in Copenhagen, January 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

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ERFURT, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger ruled out on Saturday his country being sanctioned by Brussels as a result of a new investigation into its current account surplus.

The European Union's executive body decided this week to analyse the persistently high surplus on Germany's current account - which is largely due to it exporting far more than it imports - to gauge whether criticisms from the United States and elsewhere in the EU that it causes economic imbalances are justified.

But European Energy Commissioner Oettinger, a senior figure in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told the party's youth congress in the city of Erfurt: "It certainly will not come down to sanctions."

Critics including the U.S. Treasury say the EU's biggest economy relies too much on exports and should boost domestic demand to consolidate growth. Germany has had a current account surplus in excess of 6 percent of gross domestic product since 2007.

In September the surplus reached 19.7 billion euros - more than 8 percent of 2012's economic output and the biggest in the world, beating even China. Germany says it has more than halved its surplus with the euro zone as a share of GDP since 2007.

The EU will recommend steps to fix the imbalance if the review, due to be finished early next year, finds the surplus is harmful. But European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said this week that such a finding was not a foregone conclusion.

Oettinger said the EU probe would demonstrate clearly that German exports are increasing to the rest of the world rather than Europe and that other EU manufacturers benefit when Germany sells cars to China, for example.

"This is a success for the whole EU, not for Germany at the expense of the EU," said Oettinger.

The Commission runs a scoreboard of economic indicators for member states with warning signs that include a current account deficit larger than 4 percent of GDP or a persistent surplus of over 6 percent.

But whereas there is a mechanism for fining states running excessive deficits - the penalty can be 0.1 percent of GDP - it is not currently foreseen to fine member states for a surplus.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Erfurt and Stephen Brown in Berlin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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