BERLIN (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in a television interview to be broadcast later on Sunday for suggesting that Greece could quit the euro zone temporarily.
Schaeuble has said that Greece could take a five-year “time-out” from the euro zone to address its economic problems, but Gabriel hit out at the idea in a sign of rising tension within the coalition between his Social Democrats (SPD) and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives over the Greek debt crisis.
“In my opinion it wasn’t sensible to make this suggestion as a German suggestion,” said Gabriel, who is also Vice Chancellor, in extracts of the interview released ahead of broadcast by the ZDF channel.
Gabriel said that Schaeuble, a member of Merkel’s conservatives, had provoked the SPD, their junior coalition partner.
“I’d say one should have done that differently, especially as he knew that we Social Democrats are only prepared to talk about Greece leaving the euro zone solely in the case that the Greeks want that themselves,” Gabriel said.
While Schaeuble has said the proposal was agreed with the coalition partner, SPD leader Gabriel said he had learned about the details of the proposal only after it had been floated in negotiations in Brussels.
Gabriel also said that Schaeuble was in a “huge conflict” with Merkel, who has said that a temporary Greek exit from the euro zone would not work.
Schaeuble said in an interview published in Der Spiegel magazine on Saturday that he and the Chancellor were “on the same path”, even if they did not always share the same opinions.
Gabriel rejected international criticism of Germany over its role in the Greek crisis, saying accusations that Berlin’s stance was too tough were not appropriate: “I think that’s an unfair judgment. Germany has made a big contribution to all packages and has taken on big risks.”
The struggle over Greece’s latest debt deal has nevertheless exposed growing rifts within the euro zone.
Gabriel said it would be wrong to take on risks related to Greece without asking the country to make changes because Italy, Spain and Portugal would then have to receive the same treatment and “the euro zone could not survive that”.
He said there was a good chance Athens would implement the reforms. “Then it will be proved that this path is right,” he added.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by David Goodman