Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Monday, days before Germany takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union with the economy in the throes of the most severe storm since World War II.
Berlin’s chairing of the 26-member bloc will be its last with Merkel in charge, and could be the one that defines the legacy of the leader dubbed the “eternal chancellor”.
With the future of the bloc’s relationship with Britain to be determined, a crucial shift to a lower carbon world in the balance and crises from Libya to Syria all jostling for attention, there is no shortage of burning issues to tackle.
But the COVID0-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought have become a bull in the painstakingly arranged EU china shop.
With all to play for, member states are anxiously looking to Europe’s biggest economy to take charge.
In an interview published Saturday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “very fortunate that Germany is taking over the presidency at this time of a major crisis.”
Merkel’s long experience and credibility “helps enormously,” she told the Handelsblatt newspaper.
Together with Macron, Merkel had sketched out the backbone of the 750 million-euro ($840-million) fund proposed by von der Leyen to bolster the bloc’s economy.
The fund would offer grants — with no repayment obligation — to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin.
With an eye on the devastating blow taken by the worst-hit countries like Spain or Italy, Merkel explained that it was “imperative that Germany not only thinks of itself but is prepared for an extraordinary act of solidarity”.
The recovery fund is likely to be among the key points raised when Merkel and Macron hold talks at German government retreat Meseberg on Monday, with frugal nations such as Austria and the Netherlands sharp critics.
But observers believe that the EU’s biggest paymaster Berlin will ram through a yes.
“When the Germans are certain they are right, it’s very bulldozer, there is no margin for discussion,” a high-ranking EU official said.
Read more via France 24/AFP