Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Merkel urges openness, Macron 'unity', ahead of tough 2019 for EU

  • Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel get ready for another challenging year in the EU (Photo: Consilium)

Angela Merkel on Monday (31 December) argued for defending the multilateral world order and said Germany would play a larger role in defending it, as Europe faces a crucial year with Brexit and European elections looming.

At the same time, France's Emmanuel Macron, the embattled end of the EU's driving German-French tandem, argued for maintaining order and staying away from the extremes as he faces ongoing protests and deep unpopularity.

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As Europe prepares for the UK's exit from the EU in March and European elections in May, where populists are expected to surge in the European Parliament, Merkel argued for openness while Macron has called for order and unity.

In her New Year's Eve speech, Merkel warned that global challenges such as climate change, migration and the fight against terrorism cannot be solved by countries going alone.

"For our own interests, we want to solve all these questions, and we can do that best when we also take into consideration the interests of others," she said.

"That is the lesson from two world wars of the last century," Merkel added.

As Germany takes over a non-permanent seat on the UN's security council until 2020, Merkel said her country would assume greater responsibility as multilateralism was under attack.

US president Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked Merkel's migration policy, and Germany's trade policy, while undermining global cooperation on climate and migration.

In September, Trump told the UN's general assembly that he and his administration "reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism".

Merkel, however, argued that when international cooperation is under attack, "we must stand up for, argue and fight more strongly for our convictions."

Merkel, who has been serving her fourth term as Germany's chancellor, came under pressure last year, as her Christian Democrats' popularity decreased to the benefit of the far-right.

She nevertheless defied her critics and appeared to have secured a sympathetic successor, as Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over the party's leadership in December.

"Democracy lives from change," Merkel argued in her message. "We build on what our predecessors left us, and shape things in the present for those who will come after us," she added, acknowledging that Germany has been through a rough political year.

Merkel urged Germans to champion "openness, tolerance and respect". "These values have made our country strong. We must espouse them together - even if it is uncomfortable and taxing," she said.

She also pledged to fight for a "more robust" EU and vowed to maintain a "close partnership" with the UK after Brexit.

In the meantime Macron in his New Year's Eve speech has called on France to unite and stop "hateful" attacks during protests.

He did not mention the yellow vests protests by name, a wave of anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks that started outs opposition to a fuel tax and grew into a wider movement over unfair taxation, reflecting mass discontent.

Protests over the last six weeks were marred by rioting, arson and battles with police. Six people have died and hundreds have been injured since the protests began in November.

Macron criticised what he called a minority who, he said, claimed to be the voice of the people but were merely a "megaphones of a hateful crowd who have lashed out at elected politicians, police, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals".

He also implied that the anger on display on the streets of France has been brewing for some time and it has started decades ago with previous presidents - shifting some of the blame.

Macron sounded defiant as he vowed to press ahead with his plans to overhaul the welfare state, starting with changes to the unemployment benefits. He sought patience for his labour reforms to bear economic benefits.

Macron said he understood the anger of the people, but that order would be "applied without compromise".

Macron has pitted himself as the defender of Europe and liberal values against the likes of Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini and Hungary's nationalist leader Viktor Orban in the upcoming European elections in May, which is expected to see an increase in populist wins across the EU.

However, with his decreasing popularity at home, and Germany proving to be a difficult partner when it comes to reform to the eurozone, Macron has navigated himself into a difficult position ahead of the vote.

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