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G20: Angela Merkel sketches vision of French and German-led Europe

Germany is reorienting itself away from the US and the UK and toward France. Chancellor Merkel made that abundantly clear in a major speech to parliament about the EU's future and next week's G20 summit in Hamburg.

Germany and France will take a greater role in leading the European Union, and Europe must take a greater role in leading the world. That would be one way of summarizing Angela Merkel's speech to the German parliament on Thursday.

Merkel began her 30-minute address by reporting on the EU summit last weekend and discussing the bloc's prospects as it negotiates the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the union.

Significantly, Merkel spoke of "France and our other partners in the EU." She said that she had specifically talked with French President Emmanuel Macron about a "medium-term plan for deepening the EU and the euro zone." She also added that German and French interests were "connected in the closest possible way."

The German chancellor argued that the EU was recovering from its economic crisis, with all 27 remaining members recording growth and lower unemployment. The UK, Merkel suggested, was no longer at the center of European plans.

"Our priority is to prepare for our own future within the European Union, regardless of the Brexit," Merkel said.

The chancellor also reiterated the need, against the backdrop of tensions with the United States under Donald Trump, for the EU to take more responsibility.

G7-Gipfel - Trump und Merkel (Reuters/T. Gentile)

Merkel called for Europe to counter Trump on the world's climate

"Europe has no choice but to increasingly take its fate in its own hands," Merkel said.

Europe versus Trump on climate and cooperation

Merkel looked ahead to the G20 summit of the world's leading nations that will take place in the northern German city of Hamburg on July 7 and 8. The chancellor stressed the need for Europe to present a common front against Donald Trump, particularly over the Paris Agreement on climate protection.

"Since the withdrawal of the US, we're more determined than ever that this be a success," Merkel said.  "We can't wait for the last man on earth to be convinced by the scientific evidence for climate change."

She added that the Paris Agreement was "irreversible and non-negotiable."

The chancellor also took aim at Trump's national chauvinism, saying that economic protectionism "isn't an option" because it "harms everyone concerned." The theme of Germany's presidency of the G20, she stressed, was "a networked world."

Merkel acknowledged that it would be difficult to talk with Trump on issues like terrorism, protectionism and climate change in Hamburg. But she argued that international cooperation was essential to ensure economic development and sustainability for the future and defended the annual G20 summits as a useful instrument for global change.

"We need the G20 more than ever," Merkel said "We can get things accomplished more quickly and efficiently than would ever be possible for individual nations."

Merkel underscored the theme of European solidarity by meeting in Berlin after her speech with the leaders of the other EU countries taking part in the G20 summit as well as the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council. The Chancellor said that the EU wanted to send a "message of unity and determination."

The German election campaign is beginning

With Germany holding a national election on September 24, the current government is winding down. And the junior partners in Merkel's governing coalition, the Social Democrats, have directly challenged the conservative chancellor.

SPD parliamentary chairman Thomas Oppermann said that Merkel had done nothing to solve disagreements within the EU on issues like refugees. And he questioned whether the chancellor would truly stand up to the US president at a G20 summit that promises to be far more confrontational than such past meetings.

G20-Camp in Hamburg (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Sabrowsky)

Climate protection at the G20 has become a German campaign issue

"Donald Trump divides the west," Oppermann said. "It is necessary for us to take an unambiguous stand. In Hamburg, we must show the American president that he stands alone on climate change."

As was also made clear by SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz's speech to a party conference last Sunday, the Social Democrats are vying to depict themselves as tougher on Trump than the incumbent chancellor.

Opposition parties were equally scathing in their criticism. Left Party co-chairman Dietmar Bartsch disputed the idea that Europe was capable of leading the world.

"At the moment Europe cannot play this role because it's in crisis," Bartsch said. "And that's the result of your policies."

The Greens took the chancellor to task for her record on the environment, saying that in terms of concrete action Merkel was little better than Trump.

"You talk about climate protection but you actually don't do anything about climate protection," Green Party parliamentary co-chairman Anton Hofreiter said.

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