LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers bade farewell on Monday to Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble, the controversial champion of budget discipline during the euro zone crisis, who is stepping down after eight years in office.
Schaeuble, 75, will become the president of the German parliament. He is likely to be replaced by a member of the country’s liberal FDP party and who is expected to maintain the strict German line on euro zone fiscal policy.
As finance minister of Europe’s biggest economy, Schaeuble was instrumental in shaping the euro zone’s response to the crisis, building new institutions and approving bailouts for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus.
In 2015, he was a central figure in the Greek crisis, resisting calls for greater leniency on debt made by Greece’s leftist government headed by Alexis Tsipras and his outspoken finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Southern European countries have criticized Schaeuble for his insistence on tax hikes and spending cuts at a time of deep recession, as well as his opposition to debt relief.
Leaders elsewhere largely backed Schaeuble’s policies, as the euro zone struggled to regain credibility in the face of high deficits and no clear tool to address them.
“I think we will miss him because of his wisdom, also politically, and the fact that, though this is often not acknowledged, he was always looking for a compromise,” said Belgian finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt.
Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir handed Schaeuble a 100 euro note emblazoned with the German minister’s face instead of the usual bridges and archways.
Ministers also put their autographs on a large European flag as a farewell present.
Speaking in German, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, thanked his “friend” for “playing an important role in the development of the euro zone”.
In his usual abrupt style, Schaeuble dismissed reporters’ questions about his legacy at the Eurogroup, but said he believed his policies had helped keep the currency going when markets had their doubts.
“We have succeeded in eight years of crisis to keep the euro stable against many expectations. So for me it’s quite a good ending,” Schaeuble said.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Catherine Evans