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EUROPEAN UNION

Merkel, Macron meet as Germany takes on high-stakes EU presidency

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron during a videoconference earlier this year.
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron during a videoconference earlier this year. POOL/AFP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Monday, days before Germany takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union with the trading bloc in the throes of the most severe economic crisis since World War II. 

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There is no shortage of difficult issues for the German and French leaders to discuss.

The crises in Libya and Syria, for example, or EU relations with the United Kingdom in the wake of an as-yet-to-be-finalised Brexit divorce, to say nothing of the crucial shift to an economic model which makes fewer demands on a struggling environment.

But the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought will obviously dominate Monday's bi-partite talks.

"In Europe alone, it has claimed more than 100,000 lives. A few weeks of economic standstill was enough to endanger what we have built up over years."

Member states are anxiously looking to Europe's biggest economy to take charge.

In an interview published last Saturday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was "very fortunate that Germany is taking over the presidency at this time of a major crisis".

Merkel's long experience and credibility "helps enormously," the Commission chief told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Money to help those hardest hit

Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have already sketched out the backbone of the 750 million-euro fund proposed by von der Leyen to bolster the bloc's economy.

The fund would offer grants -- with no repayment obligation -- to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin.

With an eye on the devastating blow taken by the worst-hit countries like Spain or Italy, Merkel explained that it was "imperative that Germany not only thinks of itself but is prepared for an extraordinary act of solidarity.

"In such a crisis, everyone is expected to do what is necessary. And what is necessary in this case is rather extraordinary," she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The recovery fund is likely to be among the key points raised when Merkel and Macron hold talks at the German government retreat near Meseberg on Monday, with frugal nations such as Austria and the Netherlands sharp critics.

 Observers believe that, as the EU's biggest paymaster, Berlin will force even those reluctant saviours to put their hands in their pockets.

 

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