Germany's Merkel says Europe must set its own destiny
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Germany's Merkel says Europe must set its own destiny

Berlin: Angela Merkel marked her return to the political front line with a call for Europe to assert its interests more forcefully as US President Donald Trump punches holes in the world order.

In her first national television interview after the summer break, the German chancellor said Europe needs to take on more global responsibility, including on defence. As Trump attacks Germany's economic prowess and pursues a global trade war while Italy clashes with its European Union partners over migration, Merkel is being thrust into Europe's pivotal role yet again.

Fresh from hosting her old adversary Vladimir Putin in Germany, she stopped in Azerbaijan over the weekend to back a gas pipeline meant as a counterweight to Russian supplies. This week, Merkel travels to three African countries to promote investment and growth as a way to curb migration to Europe. She's expected to talk with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next month about proposals to strengthen the euro area.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is back in the international political fray with a busy schedule.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is back in the international political fray with a busy schedule.Credit:AP

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"We have to take on more responsibility," Merkel said Sunday in the interview with broadcaster ARD. "For Germany, that means placing out trust in Europe. We have the great duty and the big task of making this Europe a strong factor in the world, to ensure prosperity, peace and freedom."

Trump's questioning of pillars of the post-World War II order such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and his withdrawal from a nuclear accord with Iran that European powers helped negotiate is increasingly prompting countries like Germany to look for alternative arrangements.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, left, speaks with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, during a bilateral meeting at Schloss Meseberg castle in Meseburg, Germany, on August 18.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, left, speaks with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, during a bilateral meeting at Schloss Meseberg castle in Meseburg, Germany, on August 18.Credit:Bloomberg

With possible US sanctions looming over European companies that do business with Iran, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested last week that EU countries set up payment systems independent of the US.

Merkel stopped short of backing that proposal on Sunday, while saying she and her foreign minister "by and large" agree on the thrust that Europe increasingly needs to shape its own destiny. Maas's Social Democrats are the junior partner in Merkel's coalition government.

In Azerbaijan, Merkel gave a show of support for the Southern Gas Corridor, a pipeline project backed by the US and the EU as lessening European dependence on Russian natural gas.

"Azerbaijan is an important factor for the European Union in the diversification of our energy supplies," Merkel said Saturday alongside President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

That was just a week after Merkel hosted Putin for their first one-on-one talks in Germany in more than five years. The Kremlin said they agreed to push ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will increase Russian gas supplies to Germany, despite the possibility of US sanctions after Trump said Germany "is a captive of Russia" because it buys energy from Russia.

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Projecting stability, defending German interests and outlasting her opponents have been key to Merkel's political longevity during her almost 13 years in office. Some of those traits were on display when she invited Putin back in from the cold, according to Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference and a former German ambassador to the US.

"It symbolises her mule-like patience," he said.

EU clashes over limiting migration, stoked most recently by Italy's populist-led government, are shaping up as the next test of Merkel's stamina in the buildup to an EU summit in Austria in September. Merkel said she couldn't promise that governments would reach a deal by an end-of-August target.

"I hope we can still make progress in the remaining time, though I know that these talks are anything but easy," she said Saturday.

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Merkel's party has come under heavy criticism over suggestions that refugees in Germany should undertake a year of low-paid community service.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, general secretary of the Christian Democrat party (CDU), and a possible successor to Merkel, said the scheme would mean refugees would become better integrated and more accepted by the public.

Marco Buschmann, of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), said the CDU just wanted more cheap labour.

"This is a social explosive and would not help to calm the social conflict over integration," he said. Ulrich Schneider, the chief executive of the Joint Welfare Association, said the idea was "completely absurd",  saying language skills would prove a major barrier. Germany scrapped compulsory community service, known as Zivildienst, in 2011. Until then, men who refused to join the military for moral or health reasons would have to work in kindergartens, hospitals, care homes or youth centres.

Many members of the CDU support reinstating the year of civil service, as well as the military draft, Kramp-Karrenbauer said  on Saturday. She said it should be extended to men and women, as well as to asylum seekers and refugees.

Merkel's decision to allow more than a million migrants to enter Germany at the height of the migration crisis in 2015 has led to the rise of far-Right groups in the country.

Bloomberg, Telegraph