The heads of continental Europe’s biggest economies yesterday met in the gilded splendor of the Palace of Versailles in France, seeking ways of bolstering an EU facing Britain’s exit and mounting populism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande — whose two countries are often described as the EU’s “engine” — were joined by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni.
“The idea is to try to give political momentum to the four nations,” a French diplomatic source said.
The meeting comes in the run-up to celebrations on March 25 of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which founded what is now called the EU.
That date, combined with last year’s referendum in Britain on leaving the EU and the rise of populist and nationalist figures, has triggered a wave of angst about Europe’s future.
The EU faces legislative elections in The Netherlands this month, followed by presidential elections in France in April and May.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and paymaster, holds legislative elections in September.
Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is widely forecast to reach the runoff in the vote, while the party of firebrand anti-Islam Dutch minister Geert Wilders is expected to perform strongly in the Dutch race. Merkel, is facing pressure from the hard-right populist party Alternative for Germany.
Of the five options that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed in a White Paper on the bloc’s post-Brexit future, ranging from a simple single market to even deeper integration, Paris and Berlin have already made their choice: a “multi-speed” Europe.
In this scenario, countries wanting to move ahead on issues such as economic growth, border protection and defense could form smaller groupings, leaving reticent members behind.
“We certainly learned from the history of the last years ... that as well a European Union with different speeds, that not all will participate every time in all steps of integration,” Merkel said after a summit in Malta last month.
Berlin and Paris say the challenges of Brexit, coming after the eurozone crisis, migration and the Ukraine conflict, make a fresh drive to bolster the EU’s authority more urgent than ever.
Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have signed on to the multi-speed idea, as they worriedly eye the rise of anti-European parties.
However, to avoid antagonizing member states who resist the idea, including many in eastern Europe, no concrete project is planned to be announced after the meeting in Versailles.
In other developments, the EU is set to approve the creation of a headquarters for its military training missions in Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said she would urge foreign and defense ministers to “take immediate decisions on the establishment of a military planning and conduct capability.”
She said it would provide a “more efficient approach to the existing military training missions we have.”
The term “headquarters” is taboo in Brussels, with members like Britain saying the EU must not waste money by doing similar things to NATO.
Arriving for the meeting, British Secretary of Defense Michael Fallon said just that, urging his European partners “to cooperate more closely with NATO to avoid unnecessary duplication and structures.”
Additional reporting by AP
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after