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SCHWARZE NULL

The German finance ministry bid farewell to its boss with a big, black zero

By Jill Petzinger

In honor of Wolfgang Schäuble’s last day as finance minister of Germany, more than 300 of his staff at the finance ministry in Berlin donned black and formed a circle celebrating Schäuble’s famous schwarze null (“black zero”)—shorthand for his fanatical mission to balance Germany’s budget.

The overhead photo was presented to Schäuble for his eight years of service in an emotional goodbye on Monday night, before he went off to take up his new job as president of the parliament today. “It was an honor for me,” he told the gathered finance ministry staff.

Austerity-minded Schäuble became the first finance minister to balance the budget on a sustained basis, and left the post with a lighter relative debt load than when he joined. His approval ratings in Germany often rivaled, if not surpassed, chancellor Angela Merkel’s. But his insistence on achieving a balanced budget was criticized abroad, with many arguing that Germany didn’t need such a huge trade surplus and should take advantage of low interest rates to borrow more and boost spending on infrastructure, education, and housing.