German Chancellor Angela Merkel used what is likely to be her last government statement to parliament to call on the European Union to learn the lessons of the coronavirus crisis and to act more decisively.
“As long as the pandemic has not been overcome, a debate on the lessons learned from the crisis can only be a first step of a longer and deeper process,” Merkel told the Bundestag ahead of an EU leaders’ summit set down for later in the day in Brussels.
“But this process is important because the ability and willingness to do so will determine how the EU will meet future challenges of this magnitude,” she said.
The chancellor announced in 2018 she planned to exit the political stage at this September’s national election, marking the beginning of the post-Merkel era after 16 years in power. She turns 67 next month.
In her speech, Merkel also strongly rejected suspending patent protection for coronavirus vaccine manufacturers and called on the EU leaders to adopt a common stance towards Russia.
She said “we must create mechanisms to be able to respond to (Russian) provocations jointly and united,” adding that only in this way can the bloc “counter Russia’s hybrid of attacks.”
Merkel called for EU coordination on a broader scale, telling parliamentarians that national responses had overtaken harmonized action early in the pandemic.
“That’s why I see, in particular, crisis response, health protection, Schengen and the single market as the areas where we need to discuss strengthening Europe’s capacity to act,” she said.
Merkel also told lawmakers she backed boosting the production of vaccines for poorer countries through increased licensing but rejected what she said was a politically obtained release of patents as “the wrong way to go.”
Merkel’s statement on Thursday represented another step in her farewell to public life after holding her final parliamentary questions session on Wednesday. Thursday’s EU summit could also be her last.
Merkel is set next month to hold talks with US President Joe Biden in Washington, where she is seen as a critical supporter of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
But her comments to parliament on Thursday underline tensions with the United States on vaccination patents. Washington has proposed the suspension of patents to increase the production of vaccines for poorer countries.
In addition to Germany, Britain and the EU Commission are also opposed to waiving patents.
After a bruising internal power struggle over her successor, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have bounced back in opinion polls and at this stage appear likely to emerge as the biggest political bloc once again after the September vote.
The focus of Thursday’s parliamentary session was also on Armin Laschet, who has been selected to head up the CDU and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) election campaign as their chancellor-candidate.
Echoing Merkel’s comments, Laschet also called for greater cohesion between EU member states and for maintaining the the 27-member bloc’s open borders in what was his first Bundestag speech in 23 years.
Europe is needed more than ever, Laschet declared.
“Neither by a deadly virus nor from anti-European gloating and scepticism, and certainly not from populists and nationalists, will we let this Europe be ruined,” he said.
Laschet joined the parliamentary debate on the chancellor’s statement in his role as premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, which he represents in the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat.
The 60-year-old Laschet was a member of the Bundestag from 1994 to 1998 and last spoke to the chamber in 1998.