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EUROPEAN UNION

Macron, Merkel meet amid WWI centenary debate on European army

The leaders of France and Germany meet in Berlin on Sunday to jointly remember the victims of European wars, presenting also a united front in countering global turmoil stoked by US president Donald Trump.

Macron, Merkel meet amid WWI centenary debate on European army
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace during last week's WWI centenary commemorations. Photo: AFP

President Emmanuel Macron will visit France's former enemy turned key EU partner from 11am for a wreath-laying ceremony on its Day of Mourning for victims of war and tyranny, a parliamentary address and talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Macron and Merkel are both committed pro-Europeans and internationalists who have resisted rising populist, eurosceptic and anti-immigration forces in Europe and Trump's isolationist 'America First' stance.

During their second meeting in a week, the pair will likely delve deeper into the idea of a future European army, a proposal that has raised Trump's hackles.

As the world has remembered World War I, which ended a century ago this month, Macron has repeatedly invoked its horrors to drive home his message that rising nationalism around the globe is again destabilising the world.

He has suggested building a future European army as a symbol of a united continent.

The proposal has been backed by Merkel although Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday said France and Germany were jumping the gun, asserting that the continent's safety could be guaranteed only through NATO.

On Tuesday the US leader mocked both European powers by tweeting that “it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France?” and adding that “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along”.

A week after world leaders attended the Armistice centenary events in Paris, Merkel and Macron are also due to meet again one-on-one to resume their dialogue on ways to boost the EU.

Since their joint cabinet meeting on Europe in June, challenges have piled up, with Brexit nearing and a budget conflict escalating between Brussels and Italy.

The talks also come at a time when both leaders are politically weakened, reducing the traditional driving power of the Franco-German engine at the heart of the bloc.

As Trump gleefully tweeted days ago, Macron's once stellar approval ratings have dropped off into the mid-twenties.

And Merkel, after 13 years in power, has in recent weeks announced the beginning of the end of her reign, by declining to stand again as leader of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

She has vowed to serve out her fourth term, which runs until 2021, but many observers expect Merkel could be brought down earlier by infighting within her CDU or the unhappy three-party coalition she leads.

All this has made substantial reform initiatives by the Franco-German power couple even less likely.

There is already much frustration in Paris about Merkel's perceived foot-dragging on Macron's bold reform plans, especially forging a eurozone with a major common budget and finance minister.

The joint army plan too faces tricky questions, among them post-war Germany's traditional reluctance to send combat troops abroad, and the fact that it is the parliament that must approve military missions.

The next major political test for both Macron and Merkel will be European Parliamentary elections in May, when their centrist parties will do battle with populist and far-right forces.

Macron's trip to Berlin first sees him join President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at 11am at the “Youth for Peace” event where youngsters will present “100 ideas for peace”.

From 12:30pm Macron, Steinmeier and Merkel will attend the ceremony at the Neue Wache, a neoclassical former Prussian military guardhouse that serves as Germany's Central Memorial for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

At 1:30pm, Macron delivers a speech in the glass-domed parliamentary chamber of the Bundestag, housed in the historic Reichstag building that still bears the scars of World War II.

When Macron again meets Merkel at the chancellery at 3:10pm, they will deliver statements to the media but not give a joint press conference.

READ ALSO: Paris, Berlin agree on future eurozone budget: French ministry source

Member comments

  1. M. Macron is correct in everything he wants to achieve in France, but I do not agree with his seeming idea of a United States of Europe.
    We should all work together, hence my belief that the UK should remain in the EU, but we are all different countries with our own cultures, heritage and political systems and should remain that way.

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EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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