Merkel: German hegemony in Europe ‘an alien idea’

Chancellor warns easing of euro crisis no time to let up on reforms and integration

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Photograph: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 06:00

German chancellor Angela Merkel has dismissed concerns of German hegemony in Europe but warned EU member states must embrace further integration to “break” crisis-inducing habits.

The German leader said the EU had a habit of finding solutions to its problems “only when staring into the abyss . . . but as soon as the pressure eases, people say they want to go their own way”.

The lesson of the euro crisis, she said, would have to be a greater acceptance of allowing “Europe the last word in some areas”.

“We don’t always need to give up national practices but we need to be compatible,” she said, citing social welfare systems and labour markets as areas where improvement is needed. “It is chaos right now. We need to be prepared to break with the past in order to leap forward. I’m ready to do this.”

Her motivation was not to impose a German model on European neighbours, the German leader added, but to prevent an ageing, increasingly uncompetitive Europe heading down the road of the vanished East Germany, where she grew up.

“What I really don’t want is to look on, with our eyes open, as Europe as a whole slips back,” she said. “I would find that absurd as we have all the skills we need.”

To push for further radical change in Europe was a “complicated” task as a German leader, she admitted, given the country’s history, size and economic strength. “Therefore Germany will only act together with the others – hegemony is totally alien to me,” she said at a Berlin discussion alongside Polish prime minister Donald Tusk.

Doubts in Poland
Mr Tusk warned that the ongoing euro crisis meant a majority of Poles now had doubts about joining the single currency. Despite ongoing political controversy, however, he said it was not a question of “if” rather “when” Poland joins the bloc.

“To develop the European idea further and secure its institutions is more important than the financial problems of individual states,” he said, warning it would be “dangerous” if Germany’s neighbours felt Berlin was imposing its economic model across the bloc.

He caught the German leader by surprise with some early electoral campaigning on her behalf, adding: “Particularly in this phase of the euro crisis it is important that Angela Merkel governs in Germany.”

While Dr Merkel’s dismissed talk of a German hegemon, Italian protest politician Beppe Grillo urged just that. “There are 30 MPs in our parliament who’ve been convicted of serious offences,” said Mr Grillo to Bild daily. “I’d like to have honest, competent and professional people in the right positions so, in that respect, I’d welcome a German invasion of Italy. ”