Merkel rallies troops amid Europe's 'hardest' times
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a party congress Monday that Europe was in its perhaps worst period since World War II but the crisis could offer a chance to make it stronger.
Merkel rallied 1,000 members of her ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) saying the euro was a symbol of European unity, peace, freedom and prosperity but it was time for a "breakthrough" to a new Europe.
"We need Europe because it is the basis of our wellbeing. Sixty percent of our exports go to the European Union, nine million jobs alone depend on it," Merkel told delegates in the eastern city of Leipzig.
As Europe battles a debt crisis which has forced the Greek and Italian prime ministers out of office, she added: "Europe is today... perhaps in its hardest hour since the Second World War."
Under the banner "For Europe. For Germany.", Merkel said just as Germany had vowed to emerge stronger from the 2008 financial crisis, "now we must see to it that Europe comes out of today's crisis stronger."
"It's time for a breakthrough to a new Europe," she said to applause.
Amid mounting ire at German taxpayers having to stump up the lion's share in fighting Europe's debt crisis, Europe and its future dominated Merkel's around 60-minute speech.
As the world's number two exporter after China, Germany is Europe's biggest economy and the paymaster for the eurozone's rescue fund, which has already helped bail out Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Warning that "a long strenuous path lies ahead of us", Merkel said the crisis had not arisen overnight but had been the result of decades of misdemeanors. She warned that responsibility no longer stopped at the border.
"Irish concerns are Slovakian concerns. Greek concerns are Dutch concerns. Spanish concerns are German concerns," the 57-year-old physicist said in the speech, applauded for about six minutes at the end.
She reiterated calls for a European treaty change to include the possibility of automatic sanctions against countries that fail to abide by Europe's Stability and Growth Pact.
Merkel also backed the need for a eurozone rescue fund, but added: "At the same time... we need an improvement in the handling of budgets in many European countries and... the readiness of these countries to do more for their competitiveness."
These are "two sides of the same coin", she said.
After six years as chancellor, Merkel's rallying calls to the rank-and-file for "more Europe" come amid anger among many CDU members over Berlin shouldering the biggest burden in Europe.
A resolution set to be discussed at the two-day conference allows for struggling countries to exit the eurozone without leaving the EU.
Germany's news weekly Der Spiegel said in its online edition that it was "remarkable" that the CDU, which has always been the "Europe party", was officially discussing the possible euro exit of some states.
A call for a minimum wage in sectors without one is also expected to focus minds at the Leipzig congress, in a major shift to the centre for Merkel's party after earlier about-faces on nuclear energy and army conscription.
"There are people who have two or sometimes three jobs and nevertheless still end up with too little in their pocket to be able to live decently," Merkel said.
She called for a commission of employers and trade unions to set the level in relevant industries, without direct state involvement.
The weekly Welt am Sonntag saw the move, together with several other policy changes, as an attempt by Merkel to eye up a possible future tie-up with the opposition Social Democrats or the Greens after the 2013 general election.
© 2011 AFP