Source: The Guardian
As the rotating presidency of the EU council passes to Germany on 1 July, the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, sat down for an interview with the Guardian and five other European newspapers – Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s La Vanguardia, Italy’s La Stampa and Poland’s Polityka – to talk about Europe’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, her stance on the Brexit negotiations, and global challenges posed by the US, Russia and China.
Germany’s European council presidency is taking place during an unprecedented crisis. There is a lot of pressure; Germany is expected to sort things out. How nervous are you?
My first council presidency as chancellor was in 2007. The European constitutional treaty had just been rejected in France and the Netherlands, and we had set ourselves the task of shaping a new treaty. We succeeded in that. Then came the international financial crisis, turbulence for the euro and the refugee issue – so difficult times are nothing new. And time and again it has been shown that Europe is not yet sufficiently resistant to crises. In the euro crisis, we lacked the tools for an appropriate response. The movements of refugees in 2015 showed up the deficiencies of the EU asylum system.
Now the coronavirus pandemic is confronting us with a challenge of unprecedented dimensions. It has struck us all indiscriminately. On the one hand, it has torn us away from a period of positive economic development in all EU member states. On the other hand, it has coincided with the two great disruptive phenomena of our time, climate change and the digital revolution, which are changing our lives and our economies regardless of the virus. I am very sharply focused on all of this.
Given the sheer number of crises, is the EU’s survival on the line?
Rather than ask the existential question too often, we should get on with the day job. It is very much in all the member states’ own interests to maintain a strong European internal market and to stand united on the world stage. In such an extraordinary situation, I rely on the member states having a great interest in the things that unite us.
The crisis has not just struck Europe; the whole world is fighting the pandemic as well as political demons.
Exactly, and it is true that the tone of international discourse is brusque at the moment. After the 2008 financial crisis, multilateralism was the order of the day. That was when the G20 started meeting at the level of heads of state or government, and the countries gave a very unified response. That is not the case today. These days, we have to do all we can to stop ourselves collapsing into protectionism. If Europe wants to be heard, then it needs to set a good example. I am counting on it – though I am under no illusions about how difficult the negotiations will be.