The masked crusader pushing for quick deal on the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget-and-recovery plan was none other than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Making her first political trip since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Merkel arrived in the hemicycle of the European Parliament on Wednesday wearing a white face mask, which she then removed to deliver her speech marking the start of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Her speech, predictably, was a pro-European rhapsody on the need for unity and solidarity in response to the pandemic and the accompanying economic shock, and stern warnings against the dangers of nationalist populism.
But her visit to Brussels to speak to the Parliament was also a symbolic gesture, highlighting the role of MEPs who often feel sidelined by high-stakes negotiations among heads of state and government, and left out of the bureaucratic churning in the European Commission.
“For me, this is now the first trip abroad after the outbreak of the pandemic, and it leads me deliberately and with complete conviction to you, to the heart of European democracy,” Merkel said at the start of her remarks. “In times like these, when the European Union wants to survive this crisis strengthened, the European Parliament is needed.”
“The situation is exceptional, indeed unique in the history of the European Union, and that is why Germany has also advocated this extraordinary and unique effort of some €500 billion” — German Chancellor Angela Merkel
In her speech, Merkel expressed satisfaction that the Commission had largely adopted the framework of a Franco-German proposal for €500 billion in recovery grants, to be financed by EU countries taking on an unprecedented amount of joint debt, as part of its pandemic recovery package.
The Commission’s plan, totaling €750 billion, is now effectively attached to a €1.1 trillion long-term budget proposal that will be the subject of intense negotiations at a leaders’ summit next week, and Merkel urged a quick agreement.
“Our common goal is to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” she said. “After all, the depth of the economic downturn is a reminder to us to hurry. There is no time to lose. Only the weakest would suffer from it. I hope that we can reach an agreement this summer. This will require a great deal of compromise from all sides, including you.”
She added: “The situation is exceptional, indeed unique in the history of the European Union, and that is why Germany has also advocated this extraordinary and unique effort of some €500 billion … Now it will be important that we also become united at a European level.”
Merkel also made a passionate case for European democracy and values, and warned against political figures who might try to use the crisis to push a populist agenda fueled by fear and mistrust.
“Fact-denying populism is being pushed to its limit,” she said in a line that drew loud applause. “A democracy needs truth and transparency.”
After her speech, Merkel switched to a different mask — a black one, bearing the logo of the German presidency — as she settled in to listen to the parliamentary debate.
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