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EUROPEAN UNION

Macron tells German parliament European revival can prevent global ‘chaos’

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday urged a Franco-German push to make Europe a stronger and more confident global player that could prevent "chaos" on the world stage.

Macron tells German parliament European revival can prevent global 'chaos'
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel give a press statement prior to talks at the Chancellery in Berlin. Photo: AFP

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have used a series of war anniversaries to project unity as they push back against populist and nationalist forces in Europe and Trump's isolationist “America First” stance.

With half a year until European Parliament elections in which far-right forces look to make gains, Macron made a passionate plea for stronger backing from Merkel on a range of reforms to strengthen Europe.

“Europe, and within it the Franco-German couple, have the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos and to guide it on the road to peace,” Macron told the German parliament.

“That's why Europe must be stronger… and win more sovereignty,” he said at a ceremony to honour the victims of past wars and dictatorships.

Macron said it was Europe that had led the drive for green energy and against climate change and was now most strongly pushing multilateral approaches to trade, security, migration and environmental policy.

The first French president to address the Bundestag in 18 years, Macron called for greater European unity in order for the bloc to meet future challenges in an uncertain world.

He said Europe must not “become a plaything of great powers, must assume greater responsibility for its security and its defence, and must not accept a subordinate role in world politics”.

Merkel said she agreed with Macron's assessment that Europe stands “at a crossroads”, before the two headed into a meeting to discuss a range of policy challenges — from a joint eurozone budget to migration policy and taxing Internet giants.

The German leader reiterated that she backed Macron's proposal for a future European army as a symbol of a united continent — an idea that has raised Trump's hackles.

Last week the American president mocked the plan by tweeting that “it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France?”

But German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen insisted Sunday that a joint military force would need not just common equipment and training but also “the political will to resolutely defend European interests when a conflict breaks out”.

And France's Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told the Journal du Dimanche “it is not a question of being against the United States but of taking our destiny into our own hands to no longer count on others”.

Macron's Berlin visit came a week after world leaders met in Paris to commemorate the end of World War I a century ago.

Macron has repeatedly invoked the war's horrors to drive home the message that rising nationalism is again destabilising the world.

In a Berlin meeting with youths, Macron warned that forgetting history means “to repeat the mistakes of the past”.

While strong on symbolism, the Franco-German partnership and European reform push have been plagued by policy differences and the domestic troubles of the two leaders.

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

Macron also addressed German hesitation on major reforms such as a large common budget for the eurozone, saying that “this new stage is scary”.

He said it would require giving up some decision-making powers and pooling funds but asked pointedly, “is it better to remain locked in standstill?”

The meeting came as both leaders are politically weakened, reducing the traditional driving power at the heart of the bloc.

Macron's once stellar approval ratings have dropped off into the mid-twenties.

He now faces a wave of protests over high fuel prices by so-called “yellow vest” demonstrators who charge that Macron, a former investment banker, is neglecting the lower and middle classes.

And Merkel, after 13 years in power, recently 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 the CDU or the unhappy three-party coalition she leads.

READ ALSO: Macron, Merkel meet amid WWI centenary debate on European army

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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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