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What Angela Merkel wants

The coronavirus has forced Berlin to acknowledge that the EU won’t survive without German leadership.

BERLIN — Europe’s reluctant hegemon is reluctant no more.

For decades, even as Germany’s economic and political clout has grown, German leaders, wary of offending neighbors distrustful of its power, have resisted throwing around Berlin’s weight on the European stage — at least openly.

But the coronavirus pandemic, in particular the massive economic fallout it has wrought, is forcing Berlin to acknowledge what some European thinkers have been saying for years: The EU won’t survive without more forceful German leadership.

“Europe needs us, just as we need Europe,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a sparse gathering of MPs last week in a speech meant to lay out her vision of the country’s upcoming EU presidency, which begins next week.

“Agenda Item 10” — Merkel’s speech as announced by Parliament President Wolfgang Schäuble — began with a familiar recitation of the buttery phrases on war and peace and the EU’s manifest destiny that are a mainstay of German political rhetoric.

It soon became clear Merkel had a more pressing message: As Europe struggles with the fallout of the coronavirus, which she described as the “biggest challenge” in EU history, the time had come for Germany to step into the breach. Most significantly, Merkel made it clear that helping Europe was central to Germany’s national interest.

“How Europe fares in this crisis compared to other regions of the world will determine both the future of European prosperity and Europe’s role in the world,” she said.

In other words, Germany — the country that has benefited most from the European Union’s common market, open borders and single currency — needs to do more than just write generous checks and dole out advice on austerity. Read more 

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