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German president says EU reform must consider smaller member states

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-05-15 19:30

BERLIN - German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to take the needs of smaller European Union (EU) member states into account in proposals for ambitious reforms of the bloc.

Speaking to the newspaper "NRC Handelsblad" shortly before a visit to the Netherlands, Steinmeier warned that Berlin and Paris could only succeed in actually implementing reforms if they built a broader political coalition within the EU. "Little can be achieved without France and Germany in the European Union, but as important as these two countries may be, neither Germany nor France can achieve anything for Europe without the other member states either", Steinmeier argued.

The German president's comments were made in reaction to criticism levied by the Netherlands and other smaller states against the eurozone reform agenda championed by Macron.

Steinmeier said that the French president's proposals deserved serious consideration but also raised many questions. He highlighted that Germany too would have to make compromises in backing some of the suggestions, including the creation of a separate eurozone budget and shared finance ministry for the monetary union.

Steinmeier will spend the next two days in the Netherlands where he will meet with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Dutch King Willem-Alexander. Among others, bilateral talks are scheduled to address urgent questions such as the future of the EU following the United Kingdom's departure from the bloc. Rutte has repeatedly warned Berlin and Paris against taking any reformist steps on their own and has also rejected calls for the Netherlands to contribute greater payments to the EU's budget to help make up for the gap created by "Brexit".

Questioned on the topic of growing populist and Eurosceptic parties in many countries, Steinmeier noted that Germany was not spared from this development with parts of its population feeling "neglected and not sufficiently represented." The president consequently urged policymakers not to focus too narrowly on "metropolitan areas and boom regions" but also to be present in "economically weaker spaces."

Steinmeier further cautioned against deepening the existing rift between the EU and Russia. "I am convinced that we are not well advised to rely on isolation alone in response to Russian behavior," Steinmeier said.

However, the German president was less upbeat about the prospects of an improvement in diplomatic relations between the EU and the US following US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Steinmeier told "NRC Handelsblad" that he was "truly concerned about the transatlantic relationship, perhaps more so than others."

In his view, Trump's behavior was not just damaging to EU-US ties but also threatened to undermine the authority of the United Nation's (UN) Security Council and other institutional foundations of global multilateralism more generally.

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