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How Germany Deflected Pressure to Spend and Even Won an Ally

Birgit Jennen and Enda Curran

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Germany backed further off a full-scale economic stimulus at a meeting of global finance chiefs, a remarkable outcome given relentless calls for action from Europe, the U.S. and international institutions.

Germany’s success in deflecting the pressure suggests that Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who came to Washington with a list of counter-arguments, got off lightly from his Group of 20 colleagues at the annual International Monetary Fund conference ending Sunday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who publicly suggested Germany and China should enact growth-boosting policy measures, avoided singling out Europe’s biggest economy behind closed doors, according to two people familiar with the private discussion who asked not to be identified.

Some other G-20 delegates repeated the IMF’s general stance that governments with fiscal leeway should do more to strengthen the global economy. The Treasury didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The chorus here in town is especially heavy on Germany to use its fiscal space,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade group for the financial industry.

German officials had prepared a detailed line of defense: that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is already investing extensively, including an extra 54 billion euros ($60 billion) in spending through 2032 to counter climate change.

‘Very Positive’

Those arguments appeared to win some converts. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said governments that have room to spend more used the meetings in Washington to make their case.

”What was very positive to hear during the meetings is countries with fiscal space are actually taking measures to stimulate the economy,” Georgieva told reporters on Saturday. “Germany for example is putting forward a very sizable climate investment strategy that would bring significant growth and investment. They are also looking into what more could be done if necessary.”

With a partial U.S.-Chinese trade agreement in sight and a Brexit deal on the horizon, Scholz was emboldened in his defense of a decade of fiscal prudence in Germany. He expressed growing confidence in the government’s projection that Germany’s slowdown will be moderate and temporary.

“I think we did a lot,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The more important question is what will happen to the global economy.”

Don’t Rush It

A “rushed fiscal response” isn’t warranted as growth is expected to revive at the end of the year and success in China-U.S. talks would deliver an “immediate boost” to the economy, Scholz told reporters.

For all the artful dodging, Scholz faced a broad front of finance ministers, central bankers and economists pointing at Germany to do more. On Thursday, the government in Berlin cut its 2020 growth forecast to 1% from the previous 1.5%. Data due next month may show the economy slipped into recession.

To shift the blame game on slow growth and inflation away from central banks, former European Central Bank official Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said governments, including Germany, have a role to play in stepping up borrowing and spending to support growth.

“If fiscal policy in Germany and other countries are not willing to do that job, it is too easy to blame the central bank,” he said on a panel.

Low or negative interest rates in many countries leave little room for monetary policy, South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago said in an interview.

“Countries with fiscal space must utilize the fiscal space,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Birgit Jennen in Washington at bjennen1@bloomberg.net;Enda Curran in Washington at ecurran8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net, Tony Czuczka, Sarah McGregor

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