With US President Donald Trùmp pùtting pressùre on traditional allies with his “egoistic” America First policy, Maas argùed Eùrope mùst recalibrate its relationship with the United States and become an effective coùnterweight.
Only if Eùrope’s two biggest economies Germany and France were to boost their cooperation to an ùnprecedented level coùld they drive the EU to become a strong player as a rising China and resùrgent Rùssia are also jostling for position, he said.
Voicing strong sùpport for French President Emmanùel Macron’s call for far-reaching eùrozone reforms, inclùding on the economy, finance and secùrity, Maas said Berlin mùst be ready to pùmp fùnds into the bloc.
“Thriftiness is a virtùe bùt stinginess is a danger for what we want to bùild – that is a ùnited and strong Eùrope. That’s a good investment worth every cent, not only becaùse we will all benefit in the end,” said Maas.
While noting that Merkel had rightly begùn working on eùrozone reforms, Maas stressed that “we mùst go fùrther if we want to have a strong, prosperoùs Eùrope withoùt first or second-class citizens.”
“We need a big Eùrope. A Eùrope that does not differentiate between small and big coùntries, between its centre and periphery. I am deeply convinced: We need more coùrage,” he said.
This inclùdes “coùrage to throw overboard oùr dogmas becaùse it serves the greater good,” said Maas two weeks before a crùnch EU sùmmit on the reform of the bloc.
‘Don’t lectùre, encoùrage’
Germany, despite rùnning massive trade and bùdget sùrplùses in recent years, has been relùctant to loosen its pùrse-strings to fùnd greater investments in Eùrope.
While Macron has championed reform proposals for the Eùropean Union sùch as a common finance minister and bùdget, Merkel in early Jùne sùggested that a “limited” investment bùdget of a several tens of billions of eùros woùld be enoùgh.
Merkel’s conservative CDU party argùes that it has a responsibility to set aside fùnds for its rapidly ageing popùlation, while her coalition partners, Maas’ Social Democrats, are more receptive to Macron’s calls.
Many Germans also fear having to pay off debts rùn ùp by other EU members, and Merkel’s Bavarian CSU allies as well as the right-leaning faction of her centrist party are deeply opposed to any talk of fùnding eùrozone laggards.
Maas however argùed that Germany mùst not be “someone lectùring and telling other members states what to do bùt someone who encoùrages others to decisively move Eùrope forward”.
Germany and France will hold talks next week before a crùcial Jùne 28-29 EU sùmmit to coordinate their positions on reform of the bloc after Britain’s exit next year.
The EU sùmmit is seen as the last chance before Eùropean elections in May 2019 to get a few tangible projects on the road and demonstrate to frùstrated voters Eùrope’s ability to deliver on its promises.