Do you think the British are stingy?

Wages in Germany are too low and domestic demand has been low for years. This is at the expense of other EU countries. Because the French buy German cars, but Germans less French, according to Guilleaume Duval

taz: Monsieur Duval, many French consider German economic policy to be exemplary. Mainly because of the surplus in foreign trade. They claim the opposite. Why?

Guilleaume Duval: Maybe because I know Germany better. A foreign trade surplus does not automatically mean that the economy is in good shape. In Germany the demand is too low. And not just in terms of consumption, but also in terms of investments. At the same time, the savings rate in Germany has risen.

You criticize the German leitmotif: Spend little, save a lot?

Yes, because it is not a good sign that so little has been invested for so long. This applies not only to the companies, but also in the communities - in schools, swimming pools, etc. That will take revenge in the medium term. I am always amazed that there is so much consensus on this in the public debate in Germany.

In Germany, an advertising slogan has caused a sensation that would be unthinkable in France: Avarice is cool.

Yes. Germans think that saving and lowering wages would be the only way to strengthen the economy. Economically this is a mistake. The same thing led to major problems in Germany and Europe in the 1920s.

The term “working poor” comes from English.

Tony Blair's economic policy is radically different. The English spend a lot of money on public services, on schools and roads. That is why they are better off than we are in the eurozone. Of course, they do so against the backdrop of the neoliberal restructuring of the economy in the Thatcher era. But British wages for industrial workers are rising, and they are higher than French ones. In Germany, however, industrial wages are falling. In the service sector they are extremely low and continue to go down. The Germans are in the process of creating a lot of working poor.

The argument in favor of austerity in the Kohl era was: Aufbau Ost.

It was difficult to renovate the east, but it wasn't imperative that the country be doing badly because of it. For Germany, reunification could have been something like the Far West for America. But in 1993 Kohl began to turn the economy downwards. It is noteworthy that Schröder continued and tightened the austerity policy. Although there have not been the slightest competition problems for the German economy since 2000. It makes no sense to keep demand under pressure with such a gigantic external balance.

In Germany, unlike in France, wage levels are not a matter of government. There is also no legally guaranteed minimum wage.

But there could be. It is publicly debated in Germany. Second, the government can put pressure on one way or the other. Schröder worked hand in hand with the entrepreneurs and kept wages down. There are also non-wage costs. The Germans believe that it is imperative to reduce it.

Hasn't the austerity policy also brought advantages for Germany as a business location?

I do not believe that. If you look at the investments from the outside, there are still very few who come to Germany. This austerity policy is causing more and more problems at German universities, in basic research and - as the Pisa study has shown - also in schools. If Germany doesn't spend more money, things won't get any better with Germany as a business location.

And what does German economic policy mean for the EU?

The austerity policy has shrunk the German economy. As a result, the weight of reunified Germany in the ex-EU of the 15 is just as small as it was before reunification.

But Germany is still the largest economy in the euro zone.

The German economy is still big enough to determine the entire economic development in the euro zone. It ensured that the entire eurozone had weak growth, including the problems with unemployment. In addition, two thirds of the positive external balance of the German economy is generated with other EU countries. The lack of German domestic demand is being compensated for in the other European countries - especially France. Due to the dynamic demand in the other countries, the German economy is still doing pretty well. From a European perspective, Germany is a “free rider” on the economy of others. German industry functions thanks to the dynamism of French and Spanish demand.

This is actually not a problem in an increasingly networked economy like the European one.

You say that so easily. French industries - the automotive and textile sectors - are suffering badly and laying off a lot of people. We have always bought German cars. But the Germans also bought French cars. The problem is that their demand has become so small in the last few years.

The state of the French economy is a consequence of German economic policy?

As you say: the economies are closely interlinked. The fact that French industry is currently doing badly has to do with the fact that German demand is too low.

Does the German austerity policy also have an impact on political events in France?

The top French politicians have not criticized German politics directly, and therefore there has not been a Franco-German crisis. But we saw the indirect consequence in the referendum on the European constitution. A great many people in France believe that anything to do with Europe has a negative impact on their wages and on the welfare state. And that German economic policy has resulted in very weak growth and very few new jobs in the eurozone.

So you hold Gerhard Schröder, who was Chancellor in Germany at the time, responsible for the non in France?

Quite essential, yes.

What is your advice to Angela Merkel, who is now the EU's Council President for six months?

If Ms. Merkel really wants to do something for Europe and for European integration, then she should strengthen German domestic demand. And that means ensuring that wages rise and the wage share returns to a normal level and, on the other hand, that more public money is spent in Germany for meaningful purposes. I believe that such a turnaround is easier for a CDU-led government than for the SPD. The problem is, it doesn't look like it right now.

INTERVIEW: DOROTHEA HAHN