Angela Merkel told a conference she does not want the Conference on the Future of Europe initiative to amount to nothing more than “pie in the sky.”
Speaking at an EPP-hosted event late last week, the German chancellor said she wants “concrete” proposals to emerge from the conference, which starts on 9 May and will last one year.
When asked what she hopes the delayed forum will produce, she said, “I hope a few questions directly relating to peoples’ lives will be raised. We must not make it pie in sky.”
Merkel also said the conference was a chance to discuss issues such as whether “the European Commission President should be directly elected.”
Another possibility, she said, was that the presidencies of the Commission and Council might be “fused or merged.”
She added, “I have to warn you though that the French view [on such issues] could be quite different to the German view. But we still need to discuss these things.”
“I hope [the Conference on the Future of Europe] will raise] a few questions directly relating to peoples’ lives will be raised. We must not make it pie in sky” Angela Merkel
“Also, it will be good to see what clever ideas the public have to say on the future of the EU.”
Merkel was also asked about populist trends and, on this, she said, “It is clear there are some Member States who don’t implement the values the EU supports, for example, shortcomings on press freedom.”
“But I am from the old East Germany and I see more and more of these central and eastern European countries becoming more and more confident saying they want their opinions and experiences taken seriously.”
“They are in favour of more EU integration but not necessarily at the current pace and [also whether] Brussels needs to decide on everything. We need to take this on board in the conference.”
“Those who have been in the EU for longer do not have a monopoly on freedom and democracy and they cannot say to others, ‘don’t ask questions.’”
On EU sovereignty, she said she wants the EU “to be strong and make our voice heard,” adding, “that means standing together and unanimity.”
She told the event “That is not always easy, for example, on issues like climate change while in some areas we are not projecting a good image. Europe cannot defend itself militarily and we depend on Nato so we must look more at our own military projects."
In a wide ranging, one hour debate, she also said she was not opposed to EU treaty change to reset the bloc’s future.
Merkel said, “However, it is up to the Member States to decide on this. They are the masters of treaty change and whether they want to shift competence from national to EU level.”
“I am not saying much about my successor. I will not try to shape the path of my successor, but it is clear he has always been interested in the EU and Europe. He was an MEP and has pushed for good French-German relations. He is also from Aachen, which is at the heart of EU history. There is no doubt that the EU is one of his passions” Angela Merkel
She also suggested that some form of EU Security Council could be created which, she said, “could react more swiftly to events and which forgoes unanimity.”
But she warned, “We have to be sensitive on how to make the EU stronger because national interests also have to be considered.”
The outgoing German chancellor also mentioned the current tensions with Russia, saying, “if you look at the Russian conflict, we see problems at all levels, with the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus and with Alexei Navalny. Russia is being provocative in many ways to Europe.”
After 16 years in office, she was also quizzed on what the EU still had to do to win over doubting voters.
She listed several “challenges” and stressed that the “EU must keep pace with the times.” One example, she said, was to “shape the digital market.” She said, “This, for example 5G, has not gone as far ahead as I have would liked.”
Another issue which should be debated by the EU conference, she said, was EU foreign policy, adding, “we (member states and the EU) must work much closer together in our relationships with other countries – and we must also work more quickly.”
She added, “We work too slowly sometimes, and things are not implemented quickly enough. The EU also needs to become a global player so, yes, there is plenty for the EU to do.”
Merkel was also questioned about CDU leader Armin Laschet, tipped to succeed her as chancellor.
On this, she said, “I am not saying much about my successor. I will not try to shape the path of my successor, but it is clear he has always been interested in the EU and Europe. He was an MEP and has pushed for good French-German relations. He is also from Aachen, which is at the heart of EU history. There is no doubt that the EU is one of his passions.”
EPP Group leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, taking part in the same opening panel session as Merkel, said, “The EU doesn’t have enough tools to implement at present and we must look at the lessons to be learned from the pandemic. We should use the conference to think long and hard about whether we need treaty change.”
He said, “Europe’s main message must be one of confidence. We are frontrunners when it comes to things like climate action. Europe is not a national state following one foreign policy but, on Russia it’s in Europe’s interest to maintain peace.”
“We also need an EU Foreign Minister who is directly accountable to the European Parliament. We also maybe need a direct voting procedure for the Commission Presidency.”