German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Picture: AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Picture: AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ

Berlin — German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a deal before the summer break to help pull the EU out of the worst recession since World War 2, urging the bloc’s leaders to show solidarity to fight the coronavirus crisis.

The EU needs to a play a greater role in global affairs, and the response to the pandemic will be critical in shaping its place in geopolitics, Merkel told lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament in Berlin on Thursday, vowing to play a central role in shaping and promoting European integration.

“Solidarity and cohesion in Europe have never been more important,” said Merkel, who will take over the EU’s rotating presidency in July. “No country can survive this crisis alone and isolated. Our common goal will have to be to master this crisis together, sustainably, and with a view to the future.”

The comments are a call to action. EU leaders are wrangling over a radical proposal for a €750bn programme designed to drag the 27-member bloc out of its economic turmoil as the pandemic hits some regions harder than others.

Merkel will join her counterparts on a video conference on Friday to debate the proposal, which needs to win the backing of every EU member. Negotiations are set to be fraught as wealthy countries such as Austria and the Netherlands resist generous grants to hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain. All countries are fighting for as much as possible from the fund.

A deal before the summer break would give Merkel the opportunity to push the plan through European parliament during her presidency and give national legislatures time to ratify the decisions. Then the plans would “be able to bear fruit for the good of Europe” as soon as early next year, the chancellor said.

The programme would be funded by joint debt issuance in a significant but contentious step towards closer economic integration. The plan would make as much as €500bn in grants and €250bn in concessional loans available to the member states most affected by the crisis.

The EU can’t go back to business as usual after the pandemic, which will affect society until a vaccine is developed and rolled out, she said, adding that the recovery will need to include digital and climate initiatives to make the bloc better prepared to compete in the future.

“The current numbers reveal the dramatic fallout in Europe’s economic activity and strength, so we need to act decisively and quickly,” said Merkel. “Europe needs us as much as we need Europe.”

Bloomberg

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