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Macron urges Merkel to 'act now' on Europe

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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wave after Macron was awarded Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

France's President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to move decisively and quickly on reforming the European Union, saying the bloc's biggest economy must look past its "fetish" for surpluses and bring about change at a critical juncture.


A year after he took office, Macron voiced his impatience at a Germany that has so far proved resistant to his flagship reform proposals for the eurozone including a common finance minister and budget to drive growth.

"Don't wait, act now," he said in an impassioned plea to Merkel, who was in attendance at the award ceremony in Aachen where the French president received the prestigious Charlemagne prize for his efforts in boosting EU integration and cohesion.

At a time when the United States is going its own way in ditching the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, as well as threatening allies with punitive trade tariffs, Macron said Europe needs more than ever to stand united and show greater strength.

"If we accept that other major powers, including allies, ... put themselves in a situation to decide our diplomacy, security for us, and sometimes even make us run the worst risks, then we are not more sovereign and we cannot be more credible to public opinion," Macron said, in a clear attack against US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the hard-fought Iran accord.

Trump has also warned European companies to pull out of Iran or face sanctions.

But Macron urged Europeans to stand up against diktats from abroad. "Don't be weak," he said.

"We need to choose, build, speak with all so as to construct our own sovereignty that will be the guarantor of stability in (the Middle East), stressed Macron.

 'Take destiny in own hands'

Merkel too underlined that Europe can no longer count on the United States.

"It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands, that's the task of the future," she said.

But she also underlined that disagreements still dog many proposals for further integration of the bloc.

Macron has made little headway to date on a range of ambitious projects, most notably a common eurozone budget and finance minister, a joint military "rapid reaction force" and an EU tax on the revenues of technology giants.

Discussions on the eurozone are "difficult" between France and Germany, acknowledged Merkel.

But "the European economic and currency union must be made more sustainable."

"We will make the eurozone more crisis-proof," she said, adding that she expects agreements on a banking union.

But crucially, the German leader was silent on Macron's call for a common eurozone budget.

Her party has also firmly slapped down the proposal of a finance minister for the bloc.

Undeterred, Macron insisted Thursday that he wants "a more integrated eurozone, with its own budget".

He also took aim at the Germans over their reluctance to spend, as well as their wariness of any plan that potentially draw resources from richer countries to help out struggling ones.

Turning the tables on the German argument, Macron said: "In Germany, there cannot be a perpetual fetish for budget and trade surpluses, because they are achieved at the expense of others."

The stakes are high as France, Germany and Britain face a period of outright confrontation with historic ally United States, over both Iran and Trump's plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU.

Washington has already warned that European companies will be subject to fresh sanctions against Tehran, setting a six-month deadline to end any business in Iran or risk heavy penalties.

Macron and Merkel have promised to agree a common roadmap for the future of the EU by the time of a major summit in Brussels in June.

"The only solution that we have is unity," said Macron.