Merkel to work with new Italy govt, says united EU vital

June 3, 2018
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa following their meeting at the Foz palace in Lisbon, Thursday, May 31, 2018. Merkel is in Portugal for a 24-hour official visit during which she will discuss the European Union's future with local officials. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out in a newspaper interview her ideas for more European integration, including the creation of a joint refugee agency that would determine asylum requests on the continent’s borders.

In a changing global order, Europe “must be able to act, internally and externally, to be taken seriously by the world,” Merkel said in a wide-ranging interview with the Frankfurter Allegemeine newspaper published Sunday. She has said in the past that Europe can no longer fully rely on others and that it must take its fate into its own hand, alluding to disagreements with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel refrained from outright criticism of Trump in her comments to the newspaper, but noted that the U.S. has withdrawn from multilateral agreements and imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, including from Europe.

The chancellor spoke at a time of new concern about cohesion in the 28-member European Union, after a populist coalition with a strong euroskeptic streak was installed in Italy this week.

Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has said that Italians “aren’t the slaves” of EU powerhouses Germany and France.

Merkel said in the interview that she will approach the new government with an open mind and try to work with it “instead of speculating about its intentions.”

Asked about Salvini’s comments, she said that “it’s best to focus on talking about the issues” with Italy, Europe’s fourth-largest economy.

The chancellor has invited Italy’s new prime minister, Guiseppe Conte, to visit Germany.

Her comments Sunday were portrayed by the newspaper as a long-awaited response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious plans for Europe, laid out in a speech last fall.

Merkel’s proposals appeared to be somewhat more cautious, but with many points of agreement with her closest European ally.

Macron had proposed a joint budget for European countries sharing the euro currency that would allow investment in European projects and help stabilize the eurozone in case of economic crisis. He also called for a shared European military intervention force and defense budget.

To deal with Europe’s migration flux, Macron called for a European asylum agency and standard EU identity documents.

Merkel said in Sunday’s interview that she supports creating a European Monetary Fund — similar to the International Monetary Fund — that could help stabilize the eurozone by offering long- or short-term loans to member nations.

She also backed the idea of an investment fund, “in the low double-digit billions” of euros, to help EU members close development gaps.

The chancellor called for the establishment of a European refugee agency that would handle requests for asylum, based on unified asylum law, on Europe’s borders.

She said she views Macron’s idea of a joint intervention force “positively,” but that many details would have to be worked out.