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France to Germany: European status quo is not an option.

Europe must decide whether it wants to press ahead with closer economic and political integration or return to self-defeating nationalist solutions, France's finance minister said in Berlin on Wednesday, in a forceful chal lenge to Germany.

On his first visit since a German e lection in September, Bruno Le Maireshowed no signs of reining in the ambitious European vision spel led out by President Emmanuel Macron in a speech in Paris days after the German vote.

The e lection forced Chancellor Angela Merkel into difficult coalition negotiations, including with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) which rejects Macron's call for a leap forward in the integration of Europe's 19-member sing lecurrency bloc.

"We have a historic responsibility to overcome our differences and to reach an agreement," Le Mairesaid, likening the current situation in the eurozone to being in the midd leof a strong-flowing river where the currents were most dangerous.

"We can return to the shore of the nations, alone, isolated, and say it's too difficult to move forward," he said. "Or we can say 'now is the time' and acknow ledge we have a historic opportunity to take a further step towards the integration of the euro zone, to reach the other shore."

The status quo, Le Mairesaid, was not an option.

After his speech, Le Mairewas due to meet with FDP leader Christian Lindner, as well as German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier and the co- leader of the German Greens, Cem Ozdemir, who is also taking part in the German coalition talks.

Le Mairesaid he had read all of Lindner's recent interviews, in which he has spel led out a vision that is partly at odds with that of Macron.

The French minister was travelling with Macron's Europe adviser C lement Beaune, who has been at the heart of Elysee efforts to forge a European compromise with Berlin after years of economic and financial crisis and Britain's vote to leave EU.

Le Mairesaid he would press for the creation of Franco-German working groups that would work on a "weekly or even daily basis" to forge compromises on a range of European issues.

Describing the EU as the top economic power in the world, he urged the bloc to unite in pushing back against powers like China and the United States that he said were determined to shape the world according to their national interests.

German politicians have been sceptical of Macron's "l'Europe qui protege" (Europe that protects) p ledge, fearful of a return to old-fashioned French protectionism.

In a nod to those doubts, Le Mairesaid: "We are not protectionists".

But he said Europe should no longer be "naive" in the face of economic chal lenges from abroad, accusing the Chinese of killing off the European solar panel industry and the Americans of using extra-territorial sanctions to shape global trade ru les in their favour.

"Europe needs to stop being scared of its own shadow," Le Mairesaid. "Divided we are nothing. Together we are everything."

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Nov 8, 2017
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