Tolerance is soul of Europe, says German leader

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In a debate on the future of Europe, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel said today that “tolerance is the soul of Europe”.

“Nationalism and egotism” should have no place in Europe, she stressed, and instead called for “solidarity” among its nations. Reflecting on the weekend’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, she said that Europe should remember what happens when countries don’t respect each other.

Speaking in the European Parliament, Merkel named immigration and refugees as an issue she thinks is particularly important for the future. She said that countries in Europe have to deal with these issues together, and called for a common European asylum policy.

Reacting to the speech, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he “fully agreed” with what Merkel had said. “What you have said here is at the heart of what we do,” he said.

Not everyone who took part in the debate was so tolerant or supportive, however. The British MEP Nigel Farage, who pushed strongly for the UK to leave the EU, said that Merkel’s national immigration and asylum policies would be directly responsible for “huge numbers” of anti-EU MEPs being voted into power in the European Parliament election in May next year. Under Merkel’s steer, Germany has taken in more than a million migrants seeking refuge in recent years.

“For us, leaving the EU is now indeed a liberation,” Farage said.

Responding to the reactions to her speech, Merkel declined to apologise for her asylum policies as Farage had demanded. Instead, she thanked Juncker for the spirit in which the EU had approached Brexit negotiations with the UK.

She said: “It will come down to having areas where we can cooperate and that is exactly what we [in the German government] want to do.”

Words: Craig Nicholson
Photo: EP / Daina Le Lardic

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