October 6, 2017 / 9:53 AM / a year ago

FDP leader wants tougher euro zone policy, no new German debt

BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), a possible junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s next coalition government, has called for a tougher stance on fiscal and euro zone policy - without so far claiming the finance ministry.

FILE PHOTO - Free Democratic Party FDP leader Christian Lindner reacts during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Merkel is trying to form a three-way coalition with the FDP and the Greens after her conservatives lost support in a federal election last month and it has been widely speculated that the FDP would demand the top finance post as a price for joining.

“For us, a change in fiscal policy is more important than a new minister,” FDP leader Christian Lindner told Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Friday when asked if his party wanted to take over the powerful finance ministry from Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU bloc.

“It makes no sense to speculate about people and posts so long as we don’t have any clarity on the policy,” he added.

Lindner ruled out taking on new debt to manage the balancing act of cutting income taxes and increasing investment on digital infrastructure - two key demands of his party.

He criticized outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for not being tough enough on Greece and not cutting income taxes for middle-class workers.

“Mr. Schaeuble did not manage to impose himself over the chancellor in many questions of European policy. Just remember the third aid package for Greece, which he originally did not want to do,” Lindner said.

He called for the creation of an insolvency law for euro zone member states, adding that countries should be able to leave the single currency while remaining in the European Union.

Last week, Germany took a first big step towards forming a new government when Schaeuble, a conservative, agreed to become president of the parliament, clearing the way for another party to take his job.

But politicians from Merkel’s conservative bloc have also floated the idea that they could keep the finance ministry if neither the FDP nor the Greens should grab it during coalition talks which are likely to drag on for months.

“For us it’s all about policy changes. And we’ll have to discuss this intensively,” Lindner said of the forthcoming negotiations.

He cast some doubt over whether such a coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, FDP and Greens could work since the parties partly have conflicting policy ideas.

“This does not automatically lead to a joint project,” Lindner said.

The FDP leader also called for a reduction of the number of refugees arriving in Germany, a key demand from Merkel’s CSU sister party, and the introduction of an immigration law to attract highly educated workers from abroad.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Toby Chopra

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