Merkel, Hollande appeal to MEPs for EU unity
Updated: 2015-10-08 10:49
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and French President Francois Hollande (R) arrive at the hemicycle ahead of addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 7, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
STRASBOURG -- French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel jointly called for a strong and united Europe on Wednesday in order to address the multiple crises facing the European Union (EU).
The two EU member state leaders made an historic visit to the European Parliament (EP) plenary session in Strasbourg, the first time that the heads of the EU's two most powerful countries had jointly addressed the Parliament since Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl debated the end of the Cold War with MEPs (members of EP) in 1989.
"When Franco-German cooperation does not work, the whole of Europe suffers," said EP President Martin Schulz welcoming the two leaders.
"For years now Europe has been facing a series of crises, financial, social and economic," said Hollande. "Now we are facing a humanitarian crisis and an influx of refugees caused by the destabilization of entire regions. And I am not forgetting either the crisis of security and terrorism."
"With the migration issue, Europe is facing a new historical event," said the German chancellor. "The huge number of refugees is changing the agenda of Europe because our values are being put to the test," added Merkel. "We cannot escape the need for action at its root cause, but we must not be tempted to act at the level of nation states. This is an historic challenge which is also an opportunity."
"There is no alternative to a strong Europe," the French president reiterated, citing the need to reaffirm the EU's principle of solidarity in the face of "terrorism that seeks to destroy the glue that bonds us together," as well as the solidarity of respect for all EU states and neighboring countries in Africa and the Middle East.
"Europe has been slow to realize that the tragedies in Africa and the Middle East could have such consequences and has not provided sufficient aid and support," conceded Francois Hollande. "Europe had to get organized in a hurry. We did it, not without difficulty. But an emergency plan with the European Commission and a sharing mechanism have been established," he continued.
The French president also stressed the "need to strengthen the Schengen area" but without calling into question the principle of the passport-free zone because to do away with it completely "would be a tragic mistake," he said. Both leaders expressed support for the establishment of a true common EU asylum system.
Following the two leaders' statements, the heads of the EP's political groups had their chance to respond in a lively, and sometimes heated, debate. In particular, faced with virulent attacks from far-right and far-left groups both Hollande and Merkel took a united front, reaffirming their joint commitment to the European project.