Merkel rallies troops amid Europe's 'hardest' times

14th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

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."

She 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.

Germany has seen mounting ire at having to stump up the lion's share in fighting Europe's debt crisis.

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.

Merkel 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, as well as clearer rules for the financial markets.

She 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.

Merkel's rallying calls to the rank-and-file for "more Europe" comes 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.

Delegates are also expected to discuss the role of the European Central Bank in the crisis. The Frankfurt-based bank's independence is a thorny issue in Germany, still haunted by the hyper-inflation of the 1920s and fearful of seeing it transformed into a money-printing machine.

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.

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.

But Monday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung commented that Merkel was stuck in a "sandwich position" that could make it difficult to see through the policies.

"Not only the seniors (in the party), also the youths in the CDU represent clearly more conservative positions," it said.

© 2011 AFP

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