Merkel summons leaders for economic crisis talks

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is under attack for her refusal to stimulate the German economy with massive government spending, said Sunday she would summon senior German leaders for crisis talks December 14, dpa reported.

The move, which she announced in an interview to appear Monday in the mass-circulation newspaper Bild, is a change of speed for Merkel, who previously said there would be no further talks on the topic until January 5.

She also spoke Sunday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a day before he confers in London on the economic crisis with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Merkel's meeting at the end of this week is to be attended by key ministers, senior bankers and respected German economists. But Merkel said they would not decide on any more federal spending.

"Next Sunday we'll meet for a joint analysis to obtain maximum clarity about economic developments in 2009," she said.

She has defended 32 billion euros (40 billion dollars) in federal spending approved by her cabinet since October as sufficient economic stimulus and suggested the government must hold its fire until later.

"I repeat that I want to keep all my options open," she told Bild.

Within both her own Christian Democratic parties and the coalition partners of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), several senior figures have pressed for more spending now.

Germany is to have a general election in September.

Franz Muentefering, leader of the SPD, who has no cabinet post, called for "preparations" in case the level of spending agreed to so far turns out to be insufficient. The car industry has led calls for government aid to business.

Merkel is set to meet January 5 with senior aides, Muentefering and his aides, and the leadership of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, which advocates tax cuts.

Separately, German Education Minister Annette Schavan appealed for spending to be poured into schools and universities. She proposed an infusion worth 4.6 billion euros.

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, who has opposed any quick fix, bluntly criticised Sarkozy and Barroso on Sunday.

"Every proposal made on the European level by the EU president or by France ultimately means the Germans will have to pay," he said in Hamburg. He said Germany had ceased net public borrowing, "whereas other nations have not been so successful."

"They should not use it against Germany," he said.

Merkel and Sarkozy spoke at length with one another Sunday by phone about the economic crisis, a spokesman in Berlin said.

The talk also covered global-warming issues, said Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm.

He termed it "a long, friendly conversation." Both are to meet at the European Union summit this Thursday and Friday, and in Wilhelm's words, "make a joint success" of the upcoming EU pact on climate change and energy.

According to Wilhelm, Sarkozy "welcomed" the "German economic package."

Sarkozy this week unveiled a 26-billion-euro emergency stimulus plan that includes a 1-billion-euro loan for carmakers and 5 billion euros of new public-sector investments.

"The chancellor voiced her satisfaction at the French plan, which has a similar scale to the German one as a proportion of gross domestic product," Wilhelm said.

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