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Merkel warns of 'permanent deep rift' in Europe over COVID-19 response

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the parliament Bundestag ahead of a EU summit and Germany's EU presidency.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the parliament Bundestag ahead of a EU summit and Germany's EU presidency.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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German chancellor Angela Merkel called for solidarity and cooperation within the European Union during a speech given to the Bundestag as Germany prepares to take over the EU Council presidency.

Lamenting early "nationalistic" approaches to the pandemic, Merkel said Europe needed to work together.

"Europe needs us as we need Europe," Merkel said, adding that it was not just a historical project but one that "leads us into the future".

She called on European member states to "compromise" in a speech given just one day ahead of a European summit that will take place virtually.

Merkel is hoping to for agreement among fellow European leaders for a COVID-19 recovery package by the summer recess.

There is a €750 billion fund on the table, which includes €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans to member states.

But some EU capitals have concerns about the fund because it requires pooling debt with other countries.

"We must not allow the pandemic to lead to the economic prospects of the EU member states drifting apart, weakening the internal market, a core element of Europe," Merkel said.

“We will work with determination against the danger of a permanent deep rift in Europe."

Germany will take over the EU Council's rotating presidency from July 1 at a time when the EU faces "the greatest challenge in its history," Merkel said.

Priorities for Germany's council presidency

The German Chancellor also laid out priorities for Germany's six months in the presidency of the EU Council.

Merkel said she supported a "Green Deal" and wanted Europe's climate neutrality binding by 2050 as well as changes to goals set out for 2030. She also called for Europe to become Europe technologically and digitally sovereign.

Germany's EU council presidency will also focus on foreign policy.

Merkel said that the world needs "Europe's strong voice for the protection of human dignity, democracy and freedom".

This includes further partnership with African countries and "open dialogue" on rule of law and climate protection with China.

She previously led an EU council presidency in 2007 and this rotation comes in the six months before Merkel's term as German chancellor is set to end.