Wednesday 28 September 2016

Merkel and Hollande make joint plea for unity in face of EU crises

Alastair Macdonald Strasbourg

Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande (R) after addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande (R) after addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Francois Hollande, in a rare joint address to the European Parliament, have called for unity across the continent to tackle a series of crises that have shaken the EU to its core.

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Reprising an historic appearance by earlier German and French leaders, Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand, in the days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two leaders said more co-operation was needed to handle the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees, as well as sluggish economic growth, a shaken single currency, and confrontations with Russia and Isil.

"This is a test of historic proportions," Ms Merkel told the EU legislature in Strasbourg, as she called for common approaches to refugee policy, protecting the bloc's borders and deporting those who arrive but fail to qualify for asylum.

Speaking four days after Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reunification of east and west, France's socialist President Hollande paid tribute to his conservative counterpart from Berlin, stressing that Europe should remain a diverse alliance of sovereign states while strengthening common policies.

Sovereignty

Describing a "succession of crises", Hollande took aim at his anti-EU opponents in the National Front: "Each crisis raises fears... There is no alternative to a strong Europe to guarantee our sovereignty."

National Front leader Marine Le Pen responded with a furious attack on Hollande and his conservative predecessor when leaders of the parliament's main party blocs were given the floor.

Addressing Hollande as Merkel's "vice chancellor, administrator of the province of France", Le Pen accused him of selling out national interests to a Europe dominated by Berlin and labelled Merkel "totally irresponsible" for her offer to take in more Syrian refugees over the summer.

From the far left as well as the far right, the German leader heard critics of Berlin's handling of Greece's bankruptcy and insistence on austerity budgets in the euro zone.

And from Britain's anti-EU leader Nigel Farage, there was a prophecy of doom. The Ukip leader said he believed the disarray in Europe had made it likely that Britons would vote to leave the EU in the next couple of years and that this would spell the end for a project now "absolutely corrupted".

Irish Independent

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