German finance minister plans ‘debt brake’ suspension

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) speaks during an interview in Berlin, Germany. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 February 2020

German finance minister plans ‘debt brake’ suspension

  • Scholz has long backed plans to lift a near-unbearable burden of repayments from 2,500 municipalities by shifting €40 billion ($43.5 billion) of their debts to Berlin

BERLIN: German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz plans to temporarily suspend a government “debt brake” to hand out tens of billions of euros to struggling municipalities, weekly Die Zeit reported on Wednesday.

With years of fat budget surpluses, Germany has long faced calls at home and abroad to loosen its purse strings, but the spread of the novel coronavirus and its likely impact on economic growth have given them new impetus.

“Scholz will present a plan in March,” Die Zeit wrote without citing its sources.

Scholz would need two-thirds majorities in both parliament’s directly elected lower house and the upper house representing the states to suspend the debt brake.

Anchored in the German constitution at the height of the financial crisis in 2009, the rule prevents government from running a deficit of more than 0.35 percent of the gross domestic product in normal times.

Finance Ministry spokeswoman Katja Novak declined to comment on “speculation,” telling AFP “the finance minister will present his proposals for dealing with old debt early this year.”

“At present various options are being discussed,” Novak added.

Scholz has long backed plans to lift a near-unbearable burden of repayments from 2,500 municipalities by shifting €40 billion ($43.5 billion) of their debts to Berlin.

He hopes it would lift a major hurdle to increasing infrastructure spending and eliminating financial and planning bottlenecks in municipalities responsible for projects like roads and schools.

Many of the towns affected are in deindustrializing “rust belt” zones, like Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia.

After years of a no-new-debts policy known as the “black zero,” economists and EU partners are increasingly pressuring Berlin to upgrade aging infrastructure and stimulate its flagging economy with new spending.

A manufacturing slowdown in Europe’s top economy and the looming impact of the coronavirus have added urgency to such calls.

What is more, the European Central Bank’s monetary policy is already extremely loose, with negative interest rates and mass bond purchases under a “quantitative easing” scheme.

With little room to maneuver in Frankfurt, eurozone governments are on the hook to stimulate flagging economic growth, especially in case of a potential hefty shock stemming from an unforeseen event like the virus.


Investors, scientists urge IEA to take bolder climate stance

Updated 30 May 2020

Investors, scientists urge IEA to take bolder climate stance

  • The energy agency’s head is under pressure to align its policies with the 2015 Paris accord goals

LONDON: Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), faced renewed calls to take a bolder stance on climate change on Friday from investors concerned the organization’s reports enable damaging levels of investment in fossil fuels.

In an open letter, investor groups said an IEA report on options for green economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic, due out in June, should be aligned with the 2015 Paris accord goal of capping the rise in global temperatures at 1.5C.

The more than 60 signatories included the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose members have €30 trillion ($33.42 trillion) of assets under management, scientists and advocacy group Oil Change International.

“Bold, not incremental, action is required,” the letter said.

The Paris-based IEA said it appreciated feedback and would bear the letter’s suggestions in mind. It also said it had been recognized for leading calls on governments to put clean energy at the heart of their economic stimulus packages.

“We have backed up that call with a wide range of analysis, policy recommendations and high-level events with government ministers, CEOs, leading investors and thought leaders,” the IEA said.

Birol has faced mounting pressure in the past year from critics who say oil, gas and coal companies use the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook (WEO) annual report to justify further investment — undermining the Paris goals.

Birol has dismissed the criticism, saying the WEO helps governments understand the potential climate implications of their energy policies, and downplaying its influence on investment decisions.

FASTFACT

1.5°C

The 2015 Paris accord aims to cap the rise in global temperatures at 1.5C.

But campaigners want Birol to overhaul the WEO to chart a more reliable 1.5C path. The world is on track for more than double that level of heating, which would render the planet increasingly uninhabitable, scientists say.

The joint letter followed similar demands last year, and was published by Mission 2020, an initiative backed by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.