German minister warns of euro debate tone

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By GEIR MOULSON, Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Europe's politicians are being told to watch their language when it comes to debating the future of the single currency.

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, warned Monday that arguments about European policy are taking on a "very dangerous" tone.

The debt crisis crippling the 17 countries that use the euro has sparked fierce debate among the bloc's politicians. On one side are countries such as Spain and Italy, struggling to manage their debt due to high borrowing costs demanded by the markets, who are pushing for a swift introduction of a pan-European measures.

On the other side are politicians in the more economically stable countries — such as Germany, the Netherlands and Finland — who argue that bailing out countries unconditionally would only encourage them to backslide on reform measures designed to overhaul their economies.

Westerwelle didn't specify who his warning about the tone of discussions was aimed at. But it comes after Italian Premier Mario Monti described over the weekend the tensions as bearing "the traits of a psychological dissolution of Europe." Meanwhile in Germany, a regional official in a governing party said Greece must leave the euro this year.

"The tone of the debate is very dangerous. We must take care not to talk Europe down," Westerwelle said in a statement.

He added that attempts to grab domestic political attention "cannot be the yardstick for our action in any European country, including Germany — the situation in Europe is too serious for that."

Politicians from the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, have made particularly hardline comments in recent days — garnering attention as many policymakers are on vacation. Bavaria is due to hold state elections this time next year, shortly before German national elections.

Markus Soeder, the state's finance minister and a CSU member, called in an interview published Sunday for Greece to leave the 17-nation eurozone before the year is out.

"An example must be made of Athens (to show) that the eurozone can show its teeth," Soeder was quoted as telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "The Germans can no longer be Greece's paymaster ... further help to Greece is like pouring water into the desert."

Bailing out eurozone strugglers hasn't been popular in Germany, Europe's biggest economy. Westerwelle's own Free Democrats — another junior partner in Merkel's center-right coalition — have also talked tough on Greece. Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler said recently that the idea of Athens leaving the euro has "lost its horror."

The German government's room for maneuver in the crisis is limited by the need for it to get Parliament's approval for practically every rescue measure — something that the country's supreme court has insisted on.

In his interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, published Sunday, Monti — who leads a government of technocrats — was quoted as saying that governments have to "educate" their parliaments as they try to reach agreements on the eurozone's future.

'If governments let themselves be fully bound by the decisions of their parliaments without preserving any room for maneuver, Europe breaking apart would be more likely than closer integration," he said, according to the report.

Westerwelle responded that "we need a strengthening, not a weakening of democratic legitimation in Europe." Georg Streiter, a spokesman for Merkel, said governments' actions "must be democratically legitimized."

Late Monday, Monti's office put out a statement saying the interview "seems to have generated some misunderstandings." The leader stressed that he hadn't intended to call on curbing parliamentary control of governments, which "on the contrary, I think should be reinforced both on the national and European levels."

But the damage was done, and the CSU was less diplomatic. Its general secretary, Alexander Dobrindt, told the daily Die Welt that "we Germans will not be prepared to abolish our democracy to finance Italian debt."

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