Germany to work with France on pressing EU issues

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she would work with France to tackle pressing issues such as trade policy, the war in Syria and competition with China after the Social Democrats (SPD) approved joining a coalition with her conservatives.

Merkel welcomed the vote by a clear majority of SPD members that ended more than five months of political deadlock after an inconclusive election, and she said the right-left government must quickly get to work.

“What we’re seeing and hearing every day is that Europe needs to step up and Germany needs to have a strong voice there along with France and other member states (of the European Union),” said Merkel during a brief statement to reporters.

Priorities included international trade policy, on which many jobs in Europe’s largest economy depend, ensuring open competition with China and dealing with the “scary situation” in Syria.

“It is important that we start working as soon as possible.” Merkel added.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week stunned his European allies with plans to put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, triggering a warning by the European Union that it would retaliate with counter-measures.

Sunday’s SPD vote result brought relief to German businesses and European capitals, which believe the euro zone would benefit from Merkel being able to partner with France on President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious plans to reform the single currency bloc.

But discord within the coalition could hamper Merkel’s ability to tackle challenges like euro zone reforms, Trump’s protectionist policies, and China’s rising dominance. The war in Syria, which could result in more refugees arriving in Germany, is also a prime concern.

Both Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD are under pressure to appear distinctive to voters in a coalition borne out of necessity rather than choice, making it difficult for Merkel to balance conflicting demands.

More than 6 in 10 Germans said in a poll published on Monday they believe the coalition will serve a full four-year term.

Former Greens Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urged the coalition to speed up euro zone reforms and digitalisation, saying that Europe risked losing out politically and economically as China accelerated its technology developments.

“I hope they step on the gas pedal, when it comes to Europe. It’s a very un-Green demand, I know, but in this case, it’s warranted,” he told reporters.

 

Zainab Sa’id