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article imageMacron to Merkel: 'Don't wait, act now' for Europe

By Jérôme RIVET with Hui Min NEO in Berlin (AFP)     May 10, 2018 in Politics

France's President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to move decisively and quickly on reforming the European Union, warning that the bloc stands at a critical juncture as a United States led by Donald Trump turns inward.

A year after he took office, Macron voiced his impatience at Germany, which has so far proved resistant to his flagship reform proposals aimed at shoring up the EU following the shock of Brexit.

Using the occasion of an award ceremony in Aachen where he received the prestigious Charlemagne prize for efforts in boosting EU integration and cohesion, Macron made an impassioned plea to Merkel to take swift action.

"Don't wait, act now," he said, urging Germany to overcome its "fetish" for budget and trade surpluses and back reforms even if it meant loosening its purse strings.

At a time when the United States is going its own way in ditching the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, as well as threatening allies with punitive trade tariffs, Macron said Europe needs more than ever to stand united and show greater strength.

"If we accept that other major powers, including allies... put themselves in a situation to decide our diplomacy, security for us, and sometimes even make us run the worst risks, then we are not more sovereign and we cannot be more credible to public opinion," Macron said, in a clear attack against Trump's decision to quit the hard-fought Iran accord.

Trump has also warned European companies to pull out of Iran or face sanctions.

But Macron urged Europeans to stand up against diktats from abroad. "Don't be weak," said the 40-year-old president.

"We need to choose, build, speak with all so as to construct our own sovereignty that will be the guarantor of stability in (the Middle East)."

- 'Take destiny in own hands' -

Merkel too underlined that Europe can no longer count on the United States.

"It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands, that's the task of the future," she said in Aachen.

But she also acknowledged that disagreements still dog many proposals for further integration of the bloc, even though she and Macron have promised to agree on a common roadmap for the future of the EU by a major summit in Brussels in June.

Macron has made little headway to date on a range of ambitious projects, most notably a common eurozone budget and finance minister, a joint military "rapid reaction force" and an EU tax on the revenues of technology giants.

The stakes for Europe are high as France, Germany and Britain face a period of outright confrontation with historic ally United States, over both Iran and Trump's plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU.

Washington has already warned that European companies will be subject to fresh sanctions against Tehran, setting a six-month deadline to end any business in Iran or risk heavy penalties.

Discussions on the eurozone are "difficult" between France and Germany, acknowledged Merkel, who was hamstrung for half a year after inconclusive elections in September left her struggling to find coalition partners.

She agreed that "the European economic and currency union must be made more sustainable," but crucially, the German leader was silent on Macron's call for a common eurozone budget.

Her party has also firmly slapped down the proposal of a finance minister for the bloc.

Undeterred, Macron insisted Thursday that he wants "a more integrated eurozone, with its own budget".

He also took aim at the Germans over their reluctance to spend, as well as their wariness of any plan that potentially draw resources from richer countries to help out struggling ones.

Turning the tables on the German argument, Macron said: "In Germany, there cannot be a perpetual fetish for budget and trade surpluses, because they are achieved at the expense of others."

Germany has been under fire for keeping a tight grip on its purse strings despite its record surpluses.

Berlin on Wednesday forecast that state coffers will receive around 63.3 billion euros more in tax intake through to 2022.

Although Finance Minister Olaf Scholz pledged tax breaks and investments, he did not announce any increased in spending for Europe. Rather, Berlin has vowed to keep its budget balanced.

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