Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right party, the CDU, is choosing a new leader this weekend – a decision which will act as curtain raiser for what will be a busy German election year ahead. Mrs Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany, and Europe, through a series of crises during her 16-year reign. However, she announced over two years ago that she was not going to seek a fifth term as Chancellor.
Now, her party is seeking its second new leader since she quit that role in 2018.
That person will either run for Chancellor in Germany’s September 26 election or have a big say in who does run.
Friedrich Merz, a lawyer who was sacked by Mrs Merkel as the leader of the CDU’s parliamentary group in 2002, is the favourite among party supporters.
Among the wider population, though, Mr Merz is seen as a divisive figure, harking back to the Christian Democrats’ neoliberal era – someone more likely to drive centrist voters loyal to Mrs Merkel into the arms of the Greens or centre-left SPD.
He is nevertheless a staunch supporter of the European Union and NATO, having described himself as “a truly convinced European, a convinced transatlanticist”.
Mr Merz, who served as an MEP from 1989 until 1994, strongly advocates for “an army for Europe” – a concept opposed by many eurosceptics across the continent.
In a 2018 report, Mrs Merkel’s possible successor argued national armies were no longer needed.
He wrote: “Europe should work towards the goal of a common European army. That doesn’t mean we’ll need more money.
“What we need is to overcome the small-scale defence policies of nation states.
“That way we will project much more military power without additional costs.
“Also, since we are no longer inclined to waging war against each other within Europe, we no longer need national armies.
“And since Europe’s armed forces are not directed against anyone, the creation of a European military should be combined with arms control and disarmament initiatives.”
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Germany and France together must invite the EU’s founding countries, Poland and the Baltic states to join in from the start, Mr Merz noted.
But this initiative, he continued, must be open to all EU members that pursue the same goal — that would include many, and possibly all, countries.
He concluded in his piece for Handelsblatt: “Europe can only be credible abroad if it is also internally united. The eurozone, the core and most advanced area of the European unity project, is fragile. Everyone knows that. More muddling through puts the eurozone at risk of not surviving the next financial crisis. And this would drag Europe backward in many other areas as well.”
This week, the EU unveiled its first “own uniformed service”.
Frontex – the bloc’s border and coast guard – revealed a “sneak peak” of the new uniforms to be worn by their officials in the future.
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A statement said: “For the first time, the European Union has its own uniformed service – the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps. And here’s a sneak peek of the uniform they will be wearing to represent the EU at its borders.”
Frontex is funded directly from the EU’s annual budget and it is used to manage its common external borders.
Using ships and aircraft, the border force is mainly deployed in and around the Mediterranean to stem the flow of illegal migration into the bloc.
The so-called Standing Corps new uniform features a prominent EU flag on the sleeves of its blue jackets.
A similar design could be used in the creation of a genuine EU Army.