Schäuble rules out tax reform before 2013

Germany's finance minister ruled out on Monday a major overhaul of the country's complex tax system before 2013, a major election campaign pledge of Chancellor Angela Merkel's new coalition partners.

Schäuble rules out tax reform before 2013
Photo: DPA

“At the end of this legislative period (2013) we will have neither a balanced budget nor a fundamentally new income tax system,” Wolfgang Schäuble told the Handelsblatt business daily in an interview.

“I consider this to be a realistic prediction. With everything that we have to deal with, this is not the time,” he said.

He added: “I am well aware of the charm of the phrase ‘simpler, lower, fairer’. But I also know that this is only possible if we proceed very carefully.”

Schäuble was named finance minister after Merkel’s re-election in September as head of a new coalition pledging to speed Germany’s recovery from its worst post-war recession with €24 billion in tax cuts.

Merkel’s new partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), campaigned in the election promising major simplification of the tax system by drastically cutting the number of tax levels.

The planned tax cuts would add to Germany’s mammoth debt pile and put Europe’s biggest economy in breach of European Union deficit rules for several years to come, though.

Meanwhile the new government has ruled out major spending cuts, with Merkel saying that this would endanger Germany’s nascent recovery and that the growth that the tax cuts will trigger will help cover some of the cost.

The plans have come under fire from all sides in the last week, including from the leaders of some of Germany’s 16 states, the Bundesbank central bank and the country’s main employers’ federation.

Schäuble, 67, a veteran conservative, admitted that he was in a “complex situation,” particularly in light of a constitutional amendment limiting the budget deficit pushed through by Merkel in her first term.

“Anyone who was constitution minister as long as I was will make very sure that the constitution is adhered to. And as such a dedicated European, I know that sticking to the EU stability pact is of decisive importance for Europe,” he told Handelsblatt.

“If Germany didn’t take the pact seriously, then we would really have a problem in Europe.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.