Austrian chancellor: ‘I do not believe in Treaty change’

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Werner Faymann, the Austrian chancellor, has rejected Germany's calls to penalise countries that break EU budget discipline rules, saying he does not believe in changing the treaties to fix the euro zone's debt problems. In an exclusive interview with, he also gives his views on France’s controversial Roma expulsions.

Werner Faymann is Austrian chancellor and a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria.

He was speaking to Ewald König, editor-in-chief of EURACTIV Germany.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Mr Chancellor, the EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, has just come up with a new idea for sanctions against countries of the euro zone that breach the deficit limit. Already at the opening of a deficit procedure he wants to impose a deposit of 0.2% of GDP. What do you think of that?

Everything that is within the bounds of current legal measures can be used. But all measures that would require treaty change I find – thinking back to the Lisbon Treaty – hard to imagine in the next two years.

The solution in a procedure against deficit rule-breakers will be more likely to be at the level of financing. Early-warning systems are very realistic; they act before budgets are even decided upon. They alert us to problems before it is too late and give us the opportunity to intervene in a public debate. All other ideas would require treaty change, and I do not believe in that.

Should Europe take a pioneering position when it comes to a financial transaction tax? What are the chances for success?

Urgently, yes! Europe should take a pioneering position and introduce the financial transaction tax.

I am convinced that it is becoming more likely for two reasons: either this tax will be introduced because everyone sees that consolidating the budget cannot be done by cutting pensions alone, but must be done through a differentiated process of several measures.

By now even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to realise this and supports this. But the financial markets must pay their share because it is the only fair and good solution.

Should the EU leaders be incapable of doing this, I have a second reason for optimism. It may be possible that all of those who wish for a European financial transaction tax will be in a minority among the 27 member states. But in that case I reckon that the citizens' initiative that is being prepared now will cause enormous pressure from below in the next two or three years.

Because the population will under no circumstances accept that. Whether or not the lobbyists are stronger than the EU leaders, nobody knows. They are certainly not as strong as the European people!

Since the 'State of the Union' address by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, discussions are again taking place on how the EU can tap into additional sources of income – through bonds or through own taxes from Brussels. What do you recommend?

I would prefer it if a financial transaction tax gave the countries the possibility to make common contributions and take actions. For example: if we today guarantee for someone, we do not do it for free or without risk.

It is also possible to generate European income and relieve national budgets. Austria, in particular, is a net contributor – there are diverse possibilities to relieve us.

After helping to bail out the banking system during the financial turmoil, the EU is proposing to raise the coverage of individual savers' bank deposits to €100,000. Only Austria, France and Germany are against this plan because they believe private customers will be worse off than before. Is this opposition hopeless?

I do not think it is hopeless, even if there are only three of us. I assume that there are more talks to conduct and our expectations are not unrealistic. But I have decided to do another round with my experts and to check on it. The question is not 'what is impossible?', but 'what is possible?'

What is your position on the expulsion of the Roma and the abrasive tone adopted by European partners?

Regarding the expulsion of Roma from France I would like to confirm that next time the issue of the Roma and of the integration of minorities ought to be put on the European agenda.

I have called for this before. Why? Bonus systems that are decided in one country are not a European solution. One country cannot pay bonuses to someone for going to another country. This discussion requires more European constructiveness than the proposal made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

 When infringement proceedings are launched it is of no importance whether it concerns a small, medium or big country. There must not be a difference. I assume that the Commission, independent of how many inhabitants France has, will verify whether this is a case of breach of contract.

Did you find the tone okay?

It will take a little longer to answer this question. Commissioner Viviane Reding has in my opinion not contributed to creating a constructive dialogue, in that she simultaneously brought up the Second World War and mingled images with this debate that have no place in it.

She has apologised and for me that means it is okay. But also the tone has not contributed to how we deal with one another and how we can take the discussion back to a factual level.

In your Berlin speech on Sunday, you stressed that the world could not be more unfair after the crisis and that social democrats across Europe ought to be winning one election after the other. Why is that not happening?

Our system of values, which we give ourselves, is one thing: fairness, justice, social adjustment. Our credibility and the question of whether we are strong enough to impose any of this is another matter, and is decided at elections.

Therefore the idea that the social democrats must organise and present themselves in a more European and international manner is correct. Everyone knows that the international markets, with all their speculation products that we have discovered now, cannot be fought from an Austrian region, but at a European or international level.

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