Ger­many, France try to turn tide of Euro­pean skep­ti­cism as crises close in

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE -

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande urged Euro­pean law­mak­ers on Wed­nes­day to pull to­gether as mul­ti­ple crises close in, a highly un­usual bid to heal di­vi­sions within the Euro­pean Union caused by the in­flux of refugees, debt crises and en­croach­ing na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment.

The sep­a­rate ad­dresses to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Stras­bourg by the most pow­er­ful pro­po­nents of Euro­pean unity un­der­scored the risks now be­set­ting the EU’s 28 na­tions.

“The de­bate is not about less Europe or more Europe,” Hol­lande told law­mak­ers, evok­ing the ques­tion of na­tional sovereignty be­set­ting mem­ber na­tions. “It is about the af­fir­ma­tion of Europe or the end of Europe. Yes, the end of Europe.”

A strong Europe is the only way to guar­an­tee se­cu­rity, Hol­lande said as he pressed for a strength­ened eu­ro­zone, a stronger bor­der con­trol sys­tem among the bor­der­free Schen­gen coun­tries and a com­mon asy­lum sys­tem for refugees within the EU.

Merkel told Euro­pean law­mak­ers that Europe faces “a test of his­toric di­men­sions.” She urged “a de­ter­mined con­tri­bu­tion by Europe to re­solv­ing these crises.”

Merkel, who has come for­ward as the cham­pion of refugees flow­ing into Europe, said over­com­ing the refugee cri­sis to­gether is a key chal­lenge for the Euro­pean Union.

‘It is pre­cisely now’

“It is pre­cisely now,” she said, “that we need more Europe ... If we over­come that, we will be stronger af­ter the cri­sis than be­fore.”

The con­ser­va­tive Ger­man Chan­cel­lor and the So­cial­ist French pres­i­dent have de­vel­oped a strong per­sonal re­la­tion­ship.

Both lead­ers said the EU must di­rect its for­eign and de­vel­op­ment pol­icy more squarely to­ward re­solv­ing con­flicts and com­bat­ing causes that push peo­ple to flee their coun­tries, and in­vest more funds to do so.

Ger­many has strug­gled to get other EU coun­tries to share the bur­den of host­ing refugees. Merkel said: “In the refugee cri­sis, we must not suc­cumb to the temp­ta­tion of fall­ing back into na­tional ac­tion. Quite the con­trary.”

It was the first such joint ap­pear­ance in Stras­bourg since 1989, when West Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois spoke days af­ter the Ber­lin Wall.

The Euro­pean Union was con­ceived to end cen­turies of war through open trade and in­creased pros­per­ity, and it’s also been a way for Europe to stay glob­ally rel­e­vant. Ger­many and France have played a lead­ing role to keep the 28-na­tion bloc united de­spite ma­jor dif­fer­ences of views among Euro­pean lead­ers.

Since 2014, the EU has faced the Ukrainian con­flict at its eastern bor­der, Greece’s resur­gent debt cri­sis, ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris and Brus­sels, threats that Bri­tain could leave the EU, and the big­gest wave of mi­grant ar­rivals since World War II.

Elec­tions for Euro­pean par­lia­men­tar­i­ans last year pro­duced a rise of pop­ulist and far-right par­ties, in­clud­ing mem­bers of neoNazi move­ments in Ger­many and Greece.

The two lead­ers’ ef­fort to res­cue Europe of­fers a prime op­por­tu­nity for crit­ics to as­sail them for pulling the EU ever closer to­gether — es­pe­cially from Marine Le Pen, a French pres­i­den­tial hope­ful with strong anti-im­mi­grant views who was to take the floor as head of a new group in Par­lia­ment for far­right politi­cians.

“This is a his­toric visit for his­tor­i­cally dif­fi­cult times. The Euro­pean union is fac­ing im­mense chal­lenges and re­quires strong com­mit­ment by its lead­ers,” Euro­pean Par­lia­ment pres­i­dent Martin Schulz said when he an­nounced the visit.

King Felipe VI of Spain also came to the de­fense of Europe, say­ing in an ad­dress that “we all face the pas­sion­ate chal­lenge to con­struct a re­newed Europe for new times in a world that is cer- Mit­ter­rand fall of the tainly dif­fer­ent.

“There is no al­ter­na­tive to a united Europe. Let us have con­fi­dence in Europe. Let us have con­fi­dence in our­selves, the Euro­peans,” he said. The 47-year-old king spoke al­most 30 years af­ter Spain’s ac­ces­sion to the EU — and as his own coun­try faces a ris­ing in­de­pen­dence move­ment in Catalonia.

Op­er­a­tion Sophia

Euro­pean war­ships in the Mediter­ranean launched a new op­er­a­tion Wed­nes­day to catch mi­grant smug­glers as the lead­ers of Ger­many and France pushed for fur­ther EU ac­tion to cope with the refugee cri­sis.

The mil­i­tary mis­sion dubbed Op­er­a­tion Sophia in­volves six naval ves­sels in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off Libya with the power to stop, board, seize and de­stroy traf­fick­ers’ boats in a bid to curb the worst cri­sis of its kind since World War II.

Around 3,000 peo­ple have died mak­ing the per­ilous cross­ing over the Mediter­ranean to Europe this year, while over half a mil­lion have made the voy­age, mostly land­ing in Greece and Italy.

The first phase of the op­er­a­tion, which in­volved mon­i­tor­ing traf­ficker net­works and res­cu­ing refugees from rick­ety boats cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, has been run­ning since June.

An Ital­ian air­craft car­rier, a French frigate and one Bri­tish, one Span­ish and two Ger­man ships are all in­volved in the mis­sion, which fol­lows in the foot­steps of EU anti-piracy oper­a­tions on the Horn of Africa.

The EU gave the go-ahead for the op­er­a­tion in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in Septem­ber, but its ships are not, for now, al­lowed to pur­sue traf­fick­ers into Libyan wa­ters.


Syr­ian and Afghan refugees warm them­selves and dry their clothes around a fire af­ter ar­riv­ing on a dinghy from the Turk­ish coast to the north­east­ern Greek is­land of Les­bos, early Wed­nes­day, Oct. 7.

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