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Germany, France eye joint projects to help boost EU growth

BERLIN: French finance and economy ministers obtained a pledge of support Tuesday from their German counterparts for a multi-billion-euro EU Commission investment plan, but received no firm financial commitments.

Michel Sapin and Emmanuel Macron were in Berlin to meet German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel for the second time in six weeks to discuss boosting growth.

Relations between the EU’s two biggest economies have been tested recently, with Berlin preaching fiscal discipline in the crisis-hit bloc, while Paris — grappling with high unemployment and a ballooning budget deficit — has urged more stimulus spending.

Last week European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a 315-billion euro ($390 billion) investment plan to “kickstart” Europe’s stalling economy.

France, which believes Germany could help the eurozone economy by loosening its purse strings and increasing investment, had hoped to win a firm and precise commitment from Berlin on adding to the pot.

But the two German ministers made no financial pledges at their talks in the German capital, although they voiced support for it.

“The best support for Juncker’s plan is France and Germany together developing flagship projects,” Gabriel told reporters after the mini-summit.

“If the projects are good, the money will be found.”

For his part, Schaeuble stressed that the eagerly awaited scheme, whose aim is to fund infrastructure projects and create jobs and growth, was not due to be funded by contributions from member states.

A joint declaration adopted by the German and French ministers said only that “voluntary contributions from national promotional banks and member states should be examined” for the investment plan.

Before an EU summit in a few weeks, Berlin and Paris want to have outlined several large joint projects that will potentially be funded by the scheme, the French economy minister said.

The development of a new generation of batteries for electric cars could be one such scheme, Gabriel said, while projects for the digital economy or schemes to switch towards renewable forms of energy were others.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an address to the Bundestag lower house of parliament last week that she backed the new investment plan, providing the funds are invested wisely. (AFP)

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