Italian president says Germany must give EU recovery a boost

BERLIN Fri Mar 1, 2013 7:46am EST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano for talks in Berlin February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano for talks in Berlin February 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano told Germany on Friday it should do more to help his country and other EU states recover from an economic turndown as he ended a visit marred by bilateral tensions.

While praising Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel for their leadership role in the euro zone debt crisis, the Italian head of state said members of the European Union needed to feel "that we are all in the same boat".

"I don't want to simplify the problem, but it would be reasonable to expect an expansive impulse from Germany to contribute to a real, not just proclaimed, recovery in growth and employment in Europe," he said in a speech in Berlin.

Other euro zone countries have also urged Germany to stoke up demand at home, for example by awarding workers bigger pay increases, to help boost their exports to the biggest economy in the common currency area.

His comments capped a sometimes tense visit to Germany.

The 87-year-old president, who faces the difficult task of trying to appoint a government after this week's inconclusive elections in Italy, cancelled a meeting with a German opposition leader who called two top Italian politicians "clowns".

Peer Steinbrueck, a Social Democrat who will take on Merkel in Germany's national election in September, said on Tuesday he was "appalled that two clowns have won" Italy's February 24-25 vote.

The election was actually inconclusive with no party garnering a majority in parliament, but Steinbrueck made clear he was referring to former premier Silvio Berlusconi and comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who both did much better than expected.

Both Grillo and Berlusconi campaigned against the austerity measures implemented by technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti at the urging of Germany's conservative chancellor Merkel.

Grillo, in his popular blog, laid into Merkel for imposing German-style fiscal austerity on Italy. Berlusconi has made more personal attacks on Merkel, whom he blames for his fall from power in 2011 because of her hesitancy on euro zone bailouts.

But Napolitano said Germany's role in guiding the euro zone through the debt crisis had been crucial, adding: "This is particularly true for the comments and remarks of Chancellor Angela Merkel, which deserve the highest respect beyond any political debate, outside of Germany as well".

The chancellor's push to reduce budget deficits and debt and improve the competitiveness of euro zone economies "clearly reflects feelings shared by the main German political and social forces", Napolitano told a packed auditorium at the Humboldt University, at the end of his week-long state visit.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)

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