Enormous challenges for Europe

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Chancellor gives government statement Enormous challenges for Europe

Migration policy, international terrorism, the Ukraine crisis and EU reforms – these will be the central issues on the agenda when the European Council meets on 25 and 26 June. Europe is facing enormous challenges within and outside the Union, said the Chancellor in a government statement.

Thursday, 18 June 2015
The Plenary Chamber of the German Bundestag

Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a government statement in the German Bundestag

Photo: Bundesregierung/Lang

"The EU is facing enormous challenges both inside and outside the Union, which we must tackle more or less simultaneously," said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a government statement prior to next week’s European Council meeting in Brussels.

"Everything must be done to save lives"

One important issue is migration and refugee policy. Since the start of this year about 100,000 refugees have attempted to flee across the Mediterranean to Europe. "The ensuing tragedies have shocked us all, time after time," said Angela Merkel. "Everything, absolutely everything must be done" to save lives.

"Germany is still willing to do its bit," said the Chancellor. She called on all EU states to demonstrate their will to accept a fair distribution of refugees throughout Europe. It is not right that a handful of member states take in most of these refugees, said Angela Merkel.

"Solidarity and responsibility must go hand in hand." Germany will make it clear that all member states must implement and apply the common European asylum system. "We need comparable standards throughout the EU in terms of refugee reception and asylum procedures."

Reducing incentives for irregular migration

The Chancellor expressly praised the work of the crews of two German navy vessels who have rescued some 4,000 people in acute distress at sea within only a few weeks.

Angela Merkel declared that work would continue to take effective action against gangs of traffickers. The factors that cause people to flee their homes in the first place must be tackled, even if this is a long-term approach. Cooperation with the countries of origin and the transit countries is crucially important. "But migrants who are not entitled to stay in Europe must be returned to their own countries more swiftly, thus reducing the incentives for irregular migration."

Later in the year, African partners will be invited to attend an EU summit meeting in Malta, to discuss common approaches.

Measures to counter international terrorism

The attacks earlier this year in Paris once again demonstrated the risk posed by international terrorism to security in Europe, said Angela Merkel. In Brussels, the EU will be discussing ways of protecting citizens, taking steps to prevent radicalisation and cooperation with international partners.

"We must ensure that the internal and external dimensions of European security policy are rationally dovetailed," said Angela Merkel. "That is why we aim not only to adopt a new internal security strategy at the European Council. We will also be taking stock of our common security and defence policy."

The security policy environment has changed radically over the last few years. "The situation in Ukraine is still a great concern," said Angela Merkel. She is, however, convinced that this conflict can only be resolved at political level. The Minsk package of measures is the framework.

Structural reforms in Europe

The Chancellor defended Franco-German plans to extend cooperation in the euro zone only gradually until 2017. Germany and France aim to work together to advocate that in the further development of the monetary union, those measures be tackled first that can be implemented without treaty change.

The Chancellor pointed in particular to the European semester which facilitates more concrete country-specific recommendations. This is a first step, she said. "But other steps can and must follow." Economic-policy coordination must be focused on the policy fields that are crucial for the functioning of the economic and monetary union.

A qualitatively new process between the European level and member states is also needed. The overarching goal of Germany and France is to strengthen competition, growth and employment again as swiftly as possible.

Specially important in this context is European cooperation in the field of digitalisation. The Chancellor welcomed the adoption of the data protection and privacy regulation by EU ministers of home affairs. "Only the creation of a genuine Digital Single Market will allow us in Europe to put in place a home market for strong digital players."

The United Kingdom remains our ally

In her government statement, the Chancellor stressed that she would like to see the United Kingdom stay within the EU as "a strong ally" of Germany and an "active partner" in the Union.

On this basis, the EU must look seriously at the wishes of the British. She did, however, make it clear that "Freedom of movement and non-discrimination are non-negotiable."

For Greece’s continued euro zone membership

Although the Greek sovereign debt crisis is "not on the agenda" of the European Council, the Chancellor touched on it in her government statement. Greece has enjoyed an unparalleled level of solidarity from the other European nations over the last five years, said the Chancellor.

Spain, Ireland and Portugal have successfully completed bailout programmes and are now back on their feet. Cyprus too is on the right path. "These countries made the most of their opportunities." Greece too was on the right path, but it kept dragging its feet over reforms.

"Germany’s efforts are still focused on keeping Greece in the euro zone." Angela Merkel also stressed, however, that it is now up to the Greek government. "If Greece’s political leaders have the will, it is still possible to reach an agreement with the three institutions."

The heads of state and government of the 28 EU member states meet at least twice every six months as the European Council in Brussels. Meetings are chaired by the President of the European Council. The meetings are also attended by the President of the European Commission.

The European Council lays down the general political aims and priorities of the EU. It is not part of the EU’s legislative system. Unless otherwise regulated, the European Council generally decides on the basis of consensus.