Strasbourg/ France — The German chancellor has addressed MEPs in Strasbourg, laying out Germany's vision for the future of Europe. Seven months ahead of EU parliamentary elections, she gave her personal assessment of where the bloc stands.
As the clock winds down on her final term as chancellor, Angela Merkel began by looking back on the EU's achievements and highlighting Europe's diversity, which was also its strength, she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
Merkel warned that Europe's values were under attack and she highlighted the principle of European solidarity: "We are experiencing that it is more and more difficult to speak alone and that's why it's so important to stand side by side."
Only a stronger Europe, Merkel said, would be able to defend its values.
"We need to take our fate into our own hands," Merkel told the assembly. To that end, she said she would also propose the establishment of a European Security Council with a rotating presidency that would help to streamline European defense and security policy.
In a clear show of support for French President Emmanuel Macron's plans to create a European defense force, Merkel said the EU should work on a vision for a European army "that would complement NATO," and not undermine it.
A European army, she said, would "show the world that there will never again be war between European countries."
Addressing the challenges facing the eurozone, Merkel said it and the common currency could only function "if every individual member fulfills their responsibility for sustainable finances," a clear reference to the current showdown between Italy and the EU Commission over the former's refusal to back down from its big-spending budget, which the Commission rejected last month.
“NO PLACE FOR NATIONALISM”
Merkel’s address comes at a time when the EU is searching for answers to a U.S. president who views the EU with contempt, to the rise of illiberal democracies and nationalist parties within its borders, and to Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.
She made appeals for tolerance and solidarity, saying “nationalism and egotism should no longer have a place in Europe” to a sustained applause.
As a deadline looms for Italy’s eurosceptic government to re-submit budget plans to the European Union, Merkel said the euro zone would only work if all member states meet their treaty responsibilities .
“Our common currency can only function if every individual member fulfils their responsibility for sustainable finances,” Merkel said, adding that otherwise the strength and the stability of the euro zone were at risk.
“We want to extend a hand to Italy,” she later said. “But Italy also agreed to all sorts of rules and it can’t just tear them up.”
Merkel dominated European politics for over a decade, but she is now a diminished force, weakened by the fragility of her coalition and the rise of the far-right in Germany. She announced in late October that she would step down as leader of her party, though remain chancellor.
Her foot-dragging over far-reaching reforms to the euro zone has frustrated the energetic Macron. In the summer, they agreed to a budget for the single currency area but failed to deliver any big-bang reforms. Few concrete steps have been taken since.
On Tuesday, she kept her vision for deeper monetary cooperation vague: “We need to develop our monetary policy better. We’re working on a banking union,” she said. “We have to look at responsibility and control, a banking union and then later a European insurance system.”
Merkel also trained her sights on Poland and Hungary, two countries whose leaders other member states worry are undercutting democratic institutions.
The European Parliament in September voted to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption, while concerns have grown in the EU over Warsaw’s accelerated judicial overhaul.
“Solidarity is always linked to commitments of the community, and the principles based on rule of law,” Merkel said.