Auf Wiedersehen: Merkel attends her European swan song summit – probably | New
By Johnny Cotton
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will suspend their meeting in Brussels on Thursday for a farewell photo with Angela Merkel, who is taking part in what could be the last of more than 100 summits in nearly 16 years as German Chancellor.
The dean of European politics has sat at the conference table with four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian prime ministers since her first EU summit in December 2005.
Back then, as today with Poland challenging the supremacy of EU law, there was a flamboyant feud between members of the bloc.
French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair opposed the EU budget and the rebate London has received from its contributions.
With the pragmatism that has come to define her approach, Merkel told reporters on arrival: “We want to start negotiations now and I think we will do our best to find an agreement.”
A skilled practitioner of hallway diplomacy, Merkel has proven adept over the years at finding compromises essential to defusing EU disputes.
The crisis most closely associated with Merkel herself was the increase in migrant arrivals in 2015 when she opened Germany’s borders to asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. .
As Hungary erected a fence on its border with Serbia to prevent migrants from entering, Merkel arrived at a special summit that year with a call for European unity, repeating her famous mantra “wir schaffen das” or “we can do it”.
“Faced with a big challenge, Europe cannot say ‘we cannot handle this’, that would be completely wrong,” she said.
Earlier in her chancellery, she was at the forefront of responding to the crisis in the eurozone, with the austerity policy causing resentment in southern member states like Greece.
Merkel herself has often become a target in street protests, caricatured on placards and posters from Athens to Lisbon, sometimes as a Nazi with a Hitler mustache.
However, Thursday’s “family photo” of the leaders of the 27 EU countries to mark Merkel’s departure may prove to be premature.
German political parties have been in talks since last month’s elections to form a ruling coalition and if they don’t succeed by mid-December, Merkel, 67, will be back in Brussels for her 108th EU summit.
(Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by Gareth Jones)