ATHENS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday backed Germany’s idea of a European Monetary Fund (EMF) to counter economic shocks in euro zone member states but stressed the ultimate goal of deeper integration should remain a euro zone budget.
Macron wants a giant leap forward in European cooperation, pushing for the creation of a euro zone finance minister and parliament, as well as a stand-alone budget for the currency bloc to cushion economic shocks and head off future crises.
The French leader is running into resistance in Berlin despite conciliatory public signals from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Her finance minister has proposed transforming the euro zone’s rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), into a fully fledged EMF that would have more powers to support vulnerable member states.
“We should head toward a European Monetary Fund but this should in no way be mixed up with a (euro zone) budget,” Macron told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during a visit to Athens.
Pavlopoulos and his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, both expressed supported for Macron’s vision of a closer euro zone.
Europe’s single currency area is emerging from the near decade-long economic and financial crisis that almost ripped it apart. But Macron lamented what he called a “kind of civil war” over differences within the currency union.
Macron praised Greece’s austerity reforms but said ordinary Greeks had paid a heavy price and reiterated his call for an easing of the country’s debt burden.
Euro zone governments in June approved another 11th-hour credit line for Greece worth nearly $10 billion after the IMF said it would in principle join the country’s current bailout, having hesitated for two years.
“We respect the IMF, but we can manage better with an organization which was set up to have a European mentality and understand the euro zone’s special features,” Pavlopoulos said.
In June the IMF demanded that Greece adopt more austerity measures in 2019 and 2020, after the current bailout program expires in August 2018.
Tsipras said Greece planned to exit its international bailout next August, putting an end to years of crisis and uncertainty.
Europe, he added, needed to create institutions to resolve future crises without having to turn to “third parties” such as the IMF for financial support.
“We are absolutely ready and determined to move in this direction and I‘m certain our lenders have the same approach of avoiding hurdles and delays,” Tsipras said during a joint news conference with Macron.
Greece and the IMF have often crossed swords over Greece’s fiscal progress, its economic targets and unpopular reforms in the labor market.
Macron urged the IMF to show “good faith” in upcoming Greek debt talks.
“The IMF’s role ... must be in good faith and without adding further conditionality,” Macron said.