Merkel Slaps Bankers as Italy Jogs Memory of Finance Crisis

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized bankers who “walked off” with money during the financial crisis and suggested they share the blame for populism that’s roiling politics in countries such as Italy.

Using language reminiscent of her rhetoric at the peak of Europe’s debt crisis, Merkel combined her slap at bankers with a warning to Italian policy makers to “tackle the problems and solve them.”

“We saw it during the international financial crisis: Many of the bankers who walked off with lots and lots of money and never had to work again in their life are partly responsible for millions of people becoming unemployed,” Merkel said on a panel at the Global Solutions Summit in Berlin on Monday. “People naturally ask themselves whether that’s fair.”

Merkel led Germany through the debt crisis that spread from Greece in 2010. She avoided commenting specifically on market turmoil stoked by a power struggle between Italian President Sergio Mattarella and two populist parties whose finance minister he vetoed.

That led League leader Matteo Salvini to suggest that the president acted under pressure from investors and countries such as Germany.

Without responding directly, Merkel alluded to how she handled Greece under anti-austerity Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. She cited the need for member countries to adhere to “principles” in the euro area and said she spent “many nights” negotiating with Tsipras to achieve a resolution.

‘Wrong People?’

Asked by a moderator about Italians voting “for the wrong people,” Merkel said the burden falls on elected officials to respond to citizens’ anxieties.

“I don’t judge any individual voters, neither in Germany nor in Italy,” Merkel said. “We’re democracies. Rather, I think that those who receive a political mandate have to be able to solve the problems that people are responding to.”

Merkel’s own Christian Democratic-led bloc is facing a challenge from the anti-immigration, nationalist Alternative for Germany. The party, founded as an anti-euro protest movement, won seats in the German parliament for the first time in last year’s election.

“The European Union was always a promise of prosperity,” Merkel said. “And when millions of people no longer see this promise of prosperity, whether it’s in the London suburbs or Portugal or Greece, then we have to confront that and ask ourselves how we can resolve that.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.