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Germany

Merkel gives first address to Bundestag, calls for EU reform

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for reforms to EU treaties and has hit back at Brussels for its criticism of electricity subsidies in Germany. The speech was her first since her third term began.

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Merkel speaks on Europe

Speaking before the Bundestag - Germany's lower house of parliament - on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined her government's stance on EU issues. The speech came ahead of a two-day summit in Brussels.

European policy would be "one of the most important issues" facing Germany in the next four years, Merkel told parliamentarians.

Germany has managed to survive the eurozone crisis relatively unscathed and has taken on a leading role in negotiations with ailing EU-member states, she said. But, she went on, despite a good economy at home and signs of recovery in Ireland and Spain, the EU must bolster its laws to prevent further risks to the currency union.

The regular recommendations for reform by the EU Commission to member states have been accepted "more or less in a friendly way," but they have not led to binding agreement, according to the chancellor.

"We are going to speak to the European Council about [implementing] such contractual agreements," Merkel said.

"We have a situation in Europe where everyone says, 'we can develop everything but we can't change the treaties'", Merkel said. "I don't think that we can build a truly functioning Europe that way."

Merkel also emphasized the importance of current negotiations to complete a deal on a euro area banking union. "For the acceptance of the euro on financial markets, the banking union is crucial," she told lawmakers in Berlin.

Merkel defends exemption

The chancellor also addressed the issue of electrical subsidies for large companies in Germany, which are exempt from paying a levy used to help fund the transition to renewable energy. The EU Commission opened an investigation into the practice, given the unfair burden placed on households, whose electricity bills have nearly doubled in recent years.

"We will clearly tell the Commission that Germany wants to remain a strong industrial nation. We need competitive enterprises," she said, adding that Berlin would cooperate, but that "Europe is not made stronger by endangering jobs in Germany."

The chancellor attacked any EU executive attempts to investigate into Germany's system of subsidized electricity for big industry, saying there could be no talk of any unfair competition as long as there were European nations where electricity for industry was much cheaper than in Germany.

Merkel's speech on Wednesday came as her first since being re-elected chancellor. She and her cabinet were sworn in on Tuesday in Berlin.

'A coalition of ignorance'

Opposition leaders accused the country's new grand coalition of a weak debut as a political power and expressed doubt at its competence to handle the eurozone crisis.

One of the Left party's leading politicians, Sahra Wagenknecht, said roughly 4500 billion euros of tax payer money had been "pulverized" by being put toward rescuing banks. She called for banking regulation, not a banking union.

"You've put us at the mercy of the banks," Wagenknecht said. The banking union is "a heavy mortgage for taxpayers," she said, adding "that's what your banking union looks like."

"[This is a] coalition of great ignorance facing the tasks at hand," Wagenknecht said.

Greens party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt echoed Wagenknecht's disappointment with the grand coalition's poltiical promises and accused the CDU/CSU and SPD of lacking the courage to give a clear direction for Germany.

Göring-Eckardt also called for more solidarity with demonstrators in Ukraine who have turned out in the thousands to protest against their president's shelving a deal with the EU. Merkel mentioned the need for Kyiv to guarantee democratic rights for protesters during her speech, but did not focus her address on the problems in the eastern European country on Wednesday.

Merkel's debut speech in her third term was also her grand coalition's debt. The partnership between her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, with Germany's second largest party, the center left Social Democrats (SPD), has left the opposition with roughly 20 percent of the vote in the lower house of parliament.

kms/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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