Germany’s Merkel: Pandemic highlights limits of populism

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Germany's Merkel: Pandemic highlights limits of populism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the coronavirus pandemic is showing the limits of “fact-denying populism.”

BRUSSELS —
The coronavirus pandemic is showing the limits of “fact-denying populism,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the European Parliament on Wednesday as she set out her country’s plans for its six-month presidency of the European Union.

Germany took over the task of chairing EU meetings on July 1 and faces the challenge of seeking a compromise on a coronavirus recovery fund for the 27-nation bloc as well as the EU’s budget for the next seven years as the continent faces up to the task of pulling out of a deep recession.

“The depth of the economic decline demands that we hurry,” Merkel told lawmakers. “We must waste no time — only the weakest would suffer from that. I very much hope that we can reach an agreement this summer. That will require a lot of readiness to compromise from all sides — and from you too.”

“We must not be naive: In many member states, opponents of Europe are just waiting to misuse the crisis for their ends,” she said. “We must show them all where the added value of cooperation in the European Union lies. We must show that a return to nationalism means not more, but less control.”

Without explicitly naming any countries or politicians, Merkel pointed to cautionary examples elsewhere.

“We are seeing at the moment that the pandemic can’t be fought with lies and disinformation, and neither can it be with hatred and agitation,” she said.

“Fact-denying populism is being shown its limits,” she added to applause. “In a democracy, facts and transparency are needed. That distinguishes Europe, and Germany will stand up for it during its presidency.”

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in May proposed creating a one-time 500 billion-euro ($563 billion) recovery fund that would be filled through shared EU borrowing. That is a big step for Germany, breaking with its long-standing opposition to any kind of joint borrowing.

The EU’s executive Commission expanded on the proposal, putting forward plans for a 750 billion-euro fund made up mostly of grants. It faces resistance from countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — that oppose grants and are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

“It is right and important for the regions particularly hard hit by the crisis, and above all the people who live there, to be able to count on our solidarity,” Merkel said Wednesday. “It is in our very own interests — but at the same time, that also means the effort that is necessary for the good of all must not overburden the economically strong member states in a one-sided way.”


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