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Merkel in Strasbourg: “Nationalism must never have a chance again.” The Chancellor’s recipe for the future of the EU

The German leader discussed the future of integration with MEPs. “Europe must act united when facing global challenges.” Solidarity and tolerance are needed to follow this path. Proposals for the future include the establishment of a European army and a budget for euro area. There is an urgent need to face migratory pressure, which is a “European problem.” Nothing, or almost nothing was said on banking union

“Mutual understanding, tolerance, attention to the needs of others” – these are the fundamental features of solidarity, a principle underlying European integration recalled by Angela Merkel in her speech at the European Parliament on Tuesday November 13 in the framework of the debate on the future of the EU that took place during the plenary assembly in Strasbourg. The German Chancellor defined the Assembly as the heart of EU democracy. She condemned national egoisms and declared, having remembered the celebrations marking the centenary of the end of the First World War: “nationalism must never have a chance again in Europe.”

Common paths. For Angela Merkel the three main sectors requiring common action on the part of EU Countries facing Europe’s challenges today are EU defence, strengthened economic and monetary union and measures on migration. But while with regard to the EMU she did not explain the reasons for opposition to governance reform and banking union (while mentioning the possibility of a budget for euro zone Countries, on which she is supposedly working on with French President Macron), as regards migration she admitted accountability: “in 2015 we realized that it was a European problem”, one not involving only Italy or Greece. Migration is “a central theme that involves the relations with our neighbours: we must identify common paths and renounce a portion of our national sovereignty to achieve something together.” Greater clarity was placed with regard to common defence, which requires convergence of intentions in the area of foreign policy “(renouncing unanimous vote wherever possible and in the areas provided for by the Treaties”, which in turn can be reformed). “We should take our fate in our hands”, the speaker said, pointing out that the geopolitical circumstances have changed also with regard to the growing isolationism in the United States led by Donald Trump. In the area of defence Merkel proposed the creation of a European Council of Security and “stronger military cooperation” in order to have “one common European army” in the future, complementary to NATO.

Sense of responsibility. Multilateralism, the encounter of differences, solidarity and responsibility are other prominent features of the EU according to the German Chancellor. The word “tolerance” reverberated several times in the EP. Ms. Merkel  went on to condemn “national egoisms” that hinder community integration, while there is the need for a “sense of responsibility.” In her speech The German Chancellor mentioned various issues and added others replying to questions by MEPs. She underlined, inter alia, that in an integrated EU, “national and individual decisions have an impact on everyone. Financial stability underlying the single currency can function only when all member Countries fulfil their responsibilities for financial stability.” She went on to declare: “Italy has co-decided the rules that form our juridical foundations”, voicing her hopes that the standstill of  Italy’s proposed budget law (without mentioning it) “may reach a solution in agreement with Community authorities.” In her address she added that multi-speed Europe – “an item of concern especially for Countries of Central and Eastern Europe” – already exists (euro, Schengen…) “what’s important is not to exclude anyone from strengthened cooperation.”

“Acting in unison.” The hemicycle was divided. Her speech was welcomed by  long round of applauses coupled by loud expressions of dissent, veritable howling coming from Eurocritical sectors (President Antonio Tajani asked whether the Assembly needed a veterinarian!). “I firmly believe that Europe is our best chance for peace, prosperity and a good future.” “The world has changed, the sovereign debt crisis, terrorism, conflicts on the borders” of the EU  have triggered new tensions; “Brexit is a deep wound”; while “digital progress has changed our lifestyle”. She thus appealed to Europe “to act united” in facing new challenges “on the global stage” through solidarity that is a “universal value” and “part of our common DNA.” Finally, concluded the German Chancellor, “solidarity does not conflict with the defence of national interests”, since there are challenges – regarding the economy, climate change, security, migration and international political stability – that don’t involve national governments alone but the EU as a whole.

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