Top EU lawmaker urges German flexibility on ECB

BRUSSELS Mon Dec 5, 2011 11:56pm IST

Martin Schulz, president of the Group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament addresses Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) party convention in Berlin, December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Martin Schulz, president of the Group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament addresses Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) party convention in Berlin, December 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany should encourage the European Central Bank to alleviate the EU debt crisis through more bond-buying rather than seek time-consuming legal changes to enshrine budgetary reform, the incoming president of the European Parliament said.

The remarks from Martin Schulz, due to become Germany's most senior member of the European Parliament when he takes over as president in January, go against Berlin's demand for changes to the EU's fundamental law aimed at securing new fiscal controls.

"This is less motivated by the desire to take concrete steps to stabilise crisis countries than it is to push through an ideology," Socialist Democrat Schulz said of a push to change EU law led by Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"What we need to do now is talk about whether the ECB buys state bonds more extensively," he said in a veiled criticism of Germany's opposition to bond-buying by the central bank. "We don't need a debate about treaty change but rapid ECB action."

Although the European Parliament cannot stop EU states from changing their law, it can hold up the process by delaying giving its opinion at a so-called convention, a forum under which EU states and parliaments debate treaty change.

Schulz underlined the urgency of the situation, highlighting Italy and Spain's steep borrowing needs at the start of next year as they repay debt that falls due.

His comments on Monday came as Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the EU treaty would need to change in the search for a solution to the debt crisis.

Schulz said any attempt to change the EU's Lisbon treaty, the bloc's basic law, would take years and require consultation of Brussels parliamentarians, which experts believe could in itself last months.

"I am, as chairman of my (political) group, just as all other group leaders of the European Parliament, of the view that treaty changes at the current time don't achieve anything and especially not in solving the most urgent problems," he said.

The German lawmaker also dismissed the idea of a mini-treaty for a smaller group within the bloc, such as those in the euro zone, if it proves impossible to get the backing of all 27 states in the EU for a change of their law.

"We cannot burden the European Union in the crisis it is now in with big treaty debates over two years," he said. "What we need now is concrete action to stabilise countries at risk."

(Reporting By John O'Donnell and Ilona Wissenbach; editing by Mark John)

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