German, French officials draft plan for strong Europe

People wearing Union flags in London yesterday. Noting that the EU is "being severely put to the test", the German and French ministers said "neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection" is the answer.
People wearing Union flags in London yesterday. Noting that the EU is "being severely put to the test", the German and French ministers said "neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection" is the answer.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ministers propose initiatives to address security, migration and economic growth

BERLIN • The foreign ministers of Germany and France have drawn up a nine-page document titled "A strong Europe in a world of uncertainties", in which they propose common European security and migration policies and strengthened economic convergence.

Acknowledging that the European Union (EU) is "being severely put to the test", German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault said the bloc was challenged by a series of crises to its south and east while economic growth was on a slow recovery path.

Work on the paper began before Britain voted last Thursday to quit the EU.

"Neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection can be an adequate answer," Mr Steinmeier and Mr Ayrault said in the paper, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

"To prevent the silent creeping erosion of our European project, we have to be more focused on essentials and on meeting the concrete expectations of our citizens," they added.

The two ministers, whose countries are at the core of the EU, said it was important to recognise that member states had different appetites for deepening European integration.

  • Referendum fever in Europe

  • All over Europe, right-wing political leaders are on the rise and calling for their countries to exit the European Union.

    FRANCE

    Far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen has urged France to hold a referendum on the country's membership of the European Union. Her popularity is surging in the polls ahead of France's presidential election next year.

    Opinion polls show France's dissatisfaction with the European Union is greater than Britain's.

    NETHERLANDS

    Mr Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch anti-immigrant PVV party, said he would make a Dutch referendum on EU membership a central theme of his campaign to become prime minister in next year's parliamentary election. He is currently leading in opinion polls.

    A survey last week by television channel Een Vandaag found that 54 per cent of the people in the Netherlands, a founding EU member, want a referendum.

    HUNGARY

    Far-right, anti-immigrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban shut Hungary to refugees last year, exacerbating the crisis. He warned that Europe needs to change its ways. "Brussels must hear the voice of the people - this is the biggest lesson from this decision," he told public radio. A poll last month by Ipsos Mori found that 38 per cent of Hungarians are looking forward to a referendum on their European Union membership.

    ITALY

    The opposition 5-Star Movement, the country's second- most popular party, described Britain's vote to leave the EU as a lesson in democracy and vowed to pursue its own proposal for an Italian referendum on whether to continue in the Union.

    A poll last month showed that 58 per cent of Italians want a referendum on their EU membership, while almost half would vote to leave.

    DENMARK

    The populist Danish People's Party (DPP), which has been calling for a renegotiation of its EU accords, has said that Denmark should follow Britain's lead and hold a referendum on its membership.

    Congratulating Britons in a Facebook post, DPP leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said: "The EU has taken too much power from the states and is now paying the price."

    AUSTRIA

    Mr Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party lost a cliffhanger presidential election last month by 0.3 per cent of the vote. He supports the idea that Austria must act independently of the EU.

    Last year, a petition to withdraw from the EU gained 260,000 signatures, which forced the Austrian Parliament to open a discussion on the issue. But it resulted in no action after none of the lawmakers introduced a Bill.

    WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

"We have to find better ways of dealing with different levels of ambition so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens," they said.

To this end, they proposed three initiatives, including a European security compact, under which "the EU should establish agreed strategic EU priorities for foreign and security policy and promote an integrated EU policy in these areas".

The second initiative calls for a common European asylum and migration policy, with the ministers saying "the EU should establish the world's first multinational border and coast guard".

The EU, they said, must find a common answer to the rising number of migrants seeking to enter the EU for economic reasons, and work to reduce push factors for irregular migration.

Europe's worst immigration crisis since World War II is in its third year, with over 10,000 people dying while crossing the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, according to United Nations figures.

The third initiative put forward by the ministers aims to foster growth and complete the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) - which seeks to integrate EU economies - through "renewed effort for more investment, both private and public".

"An EMU fiscal capacity should start by 2018 at the latest to support investment in the member states most severely hit by the crisis," they said in the paper.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'German, French officials draft plan for strong Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe