At the start of her government statement Angela Merkel pointed to the positive economic trends in the European Union. "This is an important example of what we – the European Union – can do, when we act together," she said. Europe can be proud of its unique mix of competitiveness and social welfare, said the Chancellor. Nowhere else in the world has a comparable system, she added. "The social market economy, as we know it in Germany, is a successful model which many parts of the world envy us for."
Growth rebounds in Europe
She stressed that the growth prospects have improved again in Europe. The European Commission assumes that all 28 EU member states will return to positive growth this year, and that this trend will continue in the years ahead, she reported. On the subject of unemployment, Angela Merkel conceded that youth employment in particular is much too high in some states. This is not a state of affairs that can be accepted. "But we can take some encouragement from the fact that unemployment overall in Europe is now at its lowest level since 2009," she reported.
The situation of public finance and the scope of investment too have steadily improved, in spite of the difficult situation in Greece. Germany benefits from this. "Germany will only do well in the long term if Europe does well. We must never forget that," stressed the Chancellor.
Globalisation and digitalisation offer opportunities
For the future it is crucial that we see globalisation and digitalisation as an opportunity. "We must together do everything to shape both phenomena, on the basis of our values, but also on the basis of our own best interests," said Angela Merkel. She called for trade policy that fosters free trade. Germany, as a trading nation, depends in particular on having good access not only to the Single Market but also to the world markets, so that it can take on global competitors without barriers and without any disadvantages, said the Chancellor.
She specifically welcomed the fact that the European Parliament has approved the CETA trade agreement between the EU and Canada, and called for agreements with other countries.
We must never withdraw and shut ourselves off
Angela Merkel declared that nationalist and protectionist forces are gaining ground in some parts of the world. That, she said, makes it all the more important for Europe to retain its openness, especially in terms of trade policy. "Europe must never shut itself off, erect barriers and withdraw," she declared. The Chancellor proposed that regional differences and economic specialisations within EU member states be seen as a strength. The different potential that exists in different regions must be allowed to develop fully. Excessive regulations and obstacles should be dismantled.
Greater cooperation on repatriation
Refugee and migration policy will be another focus of the European Council meeting. Angela Merkel said that progress has been made here, but that the EU must work to make more progress still. She gave the example of the European asylum system, which must be reformed, put on a footing of greater solidarity and more than anything else better equipped to face crises. In addition to this, she said, "We aim to cooperate more closely at European level on repatriation."
The situation of refugees on the Greek islands is still highly unsatisfactory, as is the way Greece is implementing the refugee agreement with Turkey, she said. And every day more migrants lose their lives in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean. That is why "the fight against smugglers and human traffickers must continue to be a top priority. Their cruel and inhuman business model must be ended," declared Angela Merkel.
The fight against criminal smugglers, the need to protect Europe’s external borders and efforts to address the root causes of displacement save lives. This is what is behind the concept of migration compacts with countries of origin of migrants and the transit states they use, explained Angela Merkel. Close cooperation with these countries, she said, can help people directly and bring about sustainable long-term improvements to the intolerable situation of many people. She gave the examples of migration compacts with Niger and Mali, and declared that it is also important to achieve a political solution in Libya.
Call for support for EU-Turkey Agreement
The Chancellor underlined the achievements of the agreement between the EU and Turkey. Since the agreement came into force, the number of people losing their lives in the Aegean has dropped dramatically, she said. Living conditions of refugees in Turkey and of the people who have fled to Jordan and Lebanon have improved. There is, however, still a lack of solidarity among EU nations, in terms of accepting voluntary contingents to resettle refugees, she said. This makes it all the more urgent to enter into agreements with transit states used by migrants and with their countries of origin. Only agreements like this will make it possible to effectively address the root causes of displacement where people are fleeing from terrorism, or in the immediate vicinity, and thus to bring about a long-term solution. Agreements, like the agreement with Turkey, are in the interests of all parties.
"Profound differences of opinion"
That is also true of Turkey. Germany and Turkey have a great many common interests. And that is true in spite of the "profound differences of opinion" between the European Union and Turkey, and between Germany and Turkey. Angela Merkel described the statements made by members of the Turkish government and even the Turkish President comparing the Federal Republic of Germany with National Socialism as sad and depressing. "It is so far off the mark that it is not really worthy of serious comment," said Angela Merkel unequivocally. It cannot be justified "under any circumstances", not even in view of the current campaign attempting to introduce a presidential system in Turkey.
"Comparisons with Nazi Germany must stop"
"These comparisons must stop," declared the Chancellor. They are not worthy of the close links between the Turkish and the German people in the political arena, in terms of civil society, in business, and as partners within NATO. She also reaffirmed that the German government will "use every option open to us" to work for the release of the German journalist Deniz Yücel, who is currently imprisoned in Turkey. In her speech the Chancellor also reached out to people with Turkish roots living in Germany, and stressed, "You are part of our country." As members of the school class, as colleagues as work or friends at sports, she said, these people contribute to prosperity and to positive coexistence in Germany. "We want to do everything possible to ensure that conflicts of an internal Turkish nature, are not carried into our society and that they do not impact adversely on the way we live together," said Angela Merkel.
Relationship with the USA of "paramount importance"
In her government statement, Angela Merkel also touched on transatlantic relations with the USA. She declared her conviction that "the transatlantic partnership on the basis of our values and our interests is of paramount importance for all of us, not only for us Europeans". In this spirit, she will be engaging in talks with President Trump in Washington D.C. on 14 March.
Precisely because the character of these relations has changed, Europe has decided to accept more responsibility in future than it has in the past. In this context, Angela Merkel mentioned in situation of the Western Balkan states; this is another item on the agenda of the European Council meeting. The Council is in favour of offering these states a European perspective. The Western Balkan states will be offered support on their way, but Europe will also insist that the reforms are realised. It is in the interests of all European states that prosperity, democracy and the rule of law be self-evident in these states too, she said.
Greater responsibility in the fields of security and defence
Europe also intends to shoulder greater responsibility in the fields of security and defence policy, said the Chancellor. And this is another important topic for the European Council. "We, the European Union, must be in a position to manage crises in our neighbourhood, not in competition with NATO, but to supplement NATO," she declared. What is needed is not only enhanced financing, but also better structural cooperation among EU member states.
At the close of her speech she called for the success story of the EU to be continued. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the founding of the EU in particular, we should affirm our commitment to our own values and interests, she said. She closed with the motto of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the EU. "We have united for the better."
The European Council meeting is taking place on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The main focus will be the situation of the European economy, cooperation between the EU and African states on migration, and cooperation within the EU on security and defence. The debate regarding the future of the EU is also to be continued and a declaration prepared for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. The plan is to adopt the declaration at the anniversary summit in Rome on 25 March.