Merkel, Sarkozy meet as ECB's Trichet bids adieu

19th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed confidence Wednesday Europe would resolve its current debt crisis as French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew in for talks ahead of this weekend's EU summit.

"I am firmly convinced that we can solve these problems," Merkel told a gala hosted by the European Central Bank in honour of its president Jean-Claude Trichet, who steps down at the end of the month.

And she said that Europe should not shy away from changing its rules in the long run.

"Treaty changes are not a taboo for me," Merkel said.

"The EU's ability to act and room for manoeuvre has proven slow and complicated... if we want to seize the crisis as an opportunity, we must be prepared to act more quickly and even in unconventional ways," Merkel said.

"If the euro fails, Europe fails but we will not allow that to happen."

The German leader was addressing a lavish farewell ceremony for ECB chief Trichet who steps down as the bank's president after eight years in office.

The two-hour event at Frankfurt's historic Alte Oper concert hall, interspersed with musical interludes, was held amid high security, since Merkel's fellow speakers included former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing and former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, as well as European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy, EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

France's current president Nicolas Sarkozy did not immediately attend because he was visiting his heavily-pregnant wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who was admitted to a maternity clinic in Paris.

But he flew in later for an "informal meeting" after the official proceedings had ended. He refused to answer journalists' questions as he arrived at the concert hall venue where the other speakers awaited him.

International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde and the French and German finance ministers, Francois Baroin and Wolfgang Schaeuble, were also in attendance.

In Paris, the Elysee insisted that no statement is planned at the end of what it called a "working meeting."

Trichet, who turns 69 in December, is scheduled to hand over the reins of the ECB to Italy's Mario Draghi on October 31.

The farewell gala began with a short film spanning Trichet's eight-year reign and was to be rounded off by a concert by the Mozart Orchestra under its founder and chief conductor, the legendary Italian maestro Claudio Abbado.

The speakers all paid tribute to Trichet as a great European.

Former French president Giscard d'Estaing praised Trichet's "wisdom and prudence".

"Your handling of the crisis, from the beginning, was the most effective compared with the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England. You acted very quickly and responsibly," he said.

"The euro thanks you, President Jean-Claude Trichet, for having served it well."

Former German chancellor Schmidt, wheeled onto the stage in a wheelchair, lashed out at the "dramatic inability of the EU's political bodies to curb the dangerous turbulence and uncertainty."

The ECB directorate, under Trichet's leadership, he said, alone proved itself effective and able to act.

"The constant talk of a 'euro crisis' is mere chatter on the part of politicians and journalists," Schmidt said.

"In truth, we have a crisis in the ability to act of the EU's political bodies. This inability to act is a much bigger danger for the future of Europe than the over-indebtedness of individual eurozone countries," Schmidt said.

EU Commission chief Barroso lauded Trichet as a "man of intellect, of vision and also of action" and said he hoped the Frenchman's "legacy will remain part of the ECB's DNA."

Merkel for her part said Trichet had not shied away from holding up "uncomfortable truths" for governments to face, and "if the euro had proven itself to be stable during the crisis, it was not least thanks to him."

© 2011 AFP

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