'Unpleasant' EU situation needs reforms -- Merkel
Chancellor sees chance to remake union
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a dramatic call for even deeper European integration to prevent a repeat of the eurozone debt crisis.
"Because the world is changing so much, we must be prepared to answer the challenges. That will mean more Europe, not less Europe," she told a conference in Berlin.
Ms Merkel said the situation in Europe had become "unpleasant" and the EU would not survive unless it showed the world it was capable of adapting to the debt crisis that has intensified in recent weeks.
Berlin hopes that by taking a rapid leap forward on the EU's fiscal stability rules, the bloc might win back the confidence of the markets. But even German officials admit that changing the EU treaty could take up to a year on the most ambitious of projections.
Ms Merkel called for changes in EU treaties after French President Nicolas Sarkozy advocated a two-speed Europe in which eurozone countries accelerate and deepen integration while an expanding group outside the currency bloc stayed more loosely connected; a signal that some members may have to quit the euro if the entire structure is not to crumble.
"It is time for a breakthrough to a new Europe," Ms Merkel said. "A community that says, regardless of what happens in the rest of the world, that it can never again change its ground rules, that community simply can't survive."
The Irish Government doesn't want another referendum on Europe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan told a conference last week that attempts to alter Europe's rules would probably be defeated in a referendum.
Ms Merkel's comments were among her most dramatic since the eurozone crisis erupted two years ago and included demands for fines for countries that breach the rules. "Pledges are always well and good, but the actual security for democracies is established structures, established rules that need to be verifiably followed -- and require consequences for not following them," Ms Merkel added.
Despite the hardline rhetoric, many German analysts believe her attitude to Europe is changing and she has decided to ignore the wishes of voters and her junior coalition partner in order to push through real change before it is too late. Ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroder said last week that Ms Merkel had belatedly demonstrated leadership in the crisis.
"She's now running the risk of hitting resistance from her party and voters," added Mr Schroder. "But it's the right thing to do."
Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, a longtime supporter of European integration, said in a newspaper interview published yesterday that the 27-nation EU was too unwieldy and that it was time to think about forming a smaller group capable of pursuing needed reforms.
"Let's just forget about the EU with 27 members -- unfortunately," Mr Fischer said in the interview. "I just don't see how these 27 states will ever come up with any meaningful reforms."
Mr Fischer, a strong pro-Europe voice in Germany as foreign minister from 1998 to 2005, said the EU was under threat because of the eurozone debt crisis and he criticised the German government for poor leadership.
"We've got the worst German government since 1949," he complained. He said Europe was heading toward a "transfer union" in which wealthier nations would provide assistance to the less prosperous. "Anyone who denies that is just lying to themselves," Mr Fischer said. Germans are nevertheless overwhelmingly opposed to any system where wealthier countries are obligated to support the poorer states.