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German chancellor hopeful Laschet: I’m a Merkel-Macron mix

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Armin Laschet, leader of the German conservatives, described his political style as a mixture of Angela Merkel’s “sobriety” and Emmanuel Macron’s “passion” for European reforms, saying that geographically he felt closer to Paris than Berlin.

In an interview at the Brussels Forum 2021 on Thursday, the Christian Democratic Union chief — who’s running in the September election to succeed Merkel as German chancellor — said he had his own “Laschet style,” which takes elements from both the German and French leaders.

“I think that Angela Merkel’s sobriety has helped sometimes,” Laschet said, adding: “On European issues, I have more of Macron’s passion. Maybe it has to do with where I come from. If you come from Aachen, then Paris is closer to you than Berlin distance-wise.”

Macron has been a strong proponent of greater European integration and laid down some of his proposals in his Sorbonne speech in 2017. Merkel reacted to most of Macron’s proposals with reluctance as many in German conservative circles fear that French calls for the likes of a common budget for the eurozone would result in German taxpayers shouldering the financial burden.

However, Merkel and Macron last year cooperated closely on the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, which has been hailed as a big step toward greater economic integration.

Crucially, Laschet said Thursday that he was on Merkel’s side on the recovery fund. She has argued that it should be a one-off and not a trailblazer for a permanent pooling of debt risk in the EU. Laschet backed that view, saying he thinks “the message that it is a one-time act is right.”

Yet the center-right hopeful also said that “after the pandemic, we need a new dynamic” in Europe. Referring to the Conference on the Future of Europe, set up to discuss potential EU treaty changes and strongly pushed by Macron, Laschet said he could “even imagine that we will have another attempt, including in the foreign policy arena, to move away from unanimity to majority voting.”

“I can imagine treaty amendments for more Europe,” Laschet said, arguing that the EU should also get greater powers to fight international terrorism and cross-border criminality.

He added that a joint European approach “always comes before national thinking,” saying: “In my opinion, a German chancellor, if he is woken up at 4 o’clock in the morning and there’s a crisis, he must immediately think: ‘How do we solve it on the European level?’ The thing to look at must always immediately be that we won’t be able to manage it alone.”

Laschet also sought to extend an olive branch to Poland and Hungary, which are locked in a fierce rule-of-law battle with Brussels over their democratic backsliding.

He said the EU should “signal that we don’t want to treat you from the top down, from Brussels, and that’s because there is a great sensitivity, especially in the states of the former Warsaw Pact, because the idea of freedom was connected with the idea of national independence.”

He added: “We have to adhere to the principles of the rule of law because European law applies, including to Poland and Hungary. But we still need ways to understand these countries, including with their own history, and to include them again a little more strongly in European processes.”

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