"We have a lot to do. I'm up for it!"

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the general budget debate in the German Bundestag "We have a lot to do. I'm up for it!"

In the general budget debate in the German Bundestag, Chancellor Angela Merkel had one foreign-policy priority - NATO. She also spoke out in favour of a balanced budget and stressed the importance of social cohesion in Germany. She closed with a message for the grand coalition.

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks in the German Bundestag.

During the budget debate in the German Bundestag, the Chancellor pointed out that investment has never been so high - with no new borrowing

Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler

"Europe cannot currently defend itself alone," said Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of her speech during the general debate on the 2020 budget in the German Bundestag. This is why Germany must shoulder more responsibility within NATO and work for unity within the alliance.

The Chancellor also stressed the importance of the alliance: NATO turned 70 this year. During the first 40 years of the Cold War it was a "bulwark for peace and liberty". For this, Germany’s gratitude must go first and foremost "to our American friends". NATO has stabilised the situation in the Western Balkans and has engaged in Afghanistan. It has mastered several rounds of enlargement since the 1990s, opening its doors to Eastern European nations, said the Chancellor.

But Angela Merkel also pointed to the need for political solutions – in Syria, for example. Turkey is also a difficult partner, but it must remain within NATO for geostrategic reasons, pointed out the Chancellor.

In addition, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that Germany would increase defence spending, which is to rise from the equivalent of 1.42 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) in 2020 to 1.5 per cent in 2024. By the early 2030s Germany should have reached the two-percent target.

In the coming week the NATO heads of state and government will be meeting in London for a summit, where they will be discussing the future of NATO.

Consistent policy vis à vis China

With respect to China and the USA, the Chancellor pointed out that the EU risks being ground down between the two if it cannot adopt a consistent policy vis à vis China. If each EU member state were to pursue its own policy on China, Europe would be harmed. The response to competition with the communist system in China cannot be to retreat into isolation.

This applies to the new 5G mobile network as it does in other areas. It would be desirable for Europe to adopt a common approach here, said Angela Merkel. To this end, Germany must first agree on a common line with France.

Balanced budget

"We have a high-investment budget – no budget has ever included so much investment," stressed the Chancellor. Even with a balanced budget a lot has been achieved for the people, as demonstrated by the government’s mid-term review.

Angela Merkel also spoke out against new borrowing. "We cannot only find investment good when it entails debt," she said, responding to calls for an investment package financed by borrowing.

Climate policy must not split the country

The German government has presented an ambitious climate package, declared the Chancellor. She would like to see a swift agreement with the individual federal states on the government’s climate action programme – because it is important that the transition begin rapidly if Germany is to meet its mandatory climate targets.

Angela Merkel also advocated stepping up the acceptance for the extension of renewables on the ground. She conceded that the way people live in towns and in the country is very different, however, and pointed out that when town and city dwellers try to explain to people who live in the country how wind power should be expanded, divisions will ensue.

It is important to ensure social cohesion, by "helping town and city dwellers who cannot find any affordable housing and helping those in rural areas to speak about what the extension of wind power means, apart from a 220 metre high wind turbine next door," said the Chancellor.

Currently a nationwide minimum standard is being discussed that would provide for a minimum of 1000 metres between wind turbines and the next settlement. The definition of a settlement as consisting of more than five houses is still contested within the coalition.

In this context the Chancellor picked up on Tuesday’s protests by farmers against government policies. "We respect the work of farmers. We want home-produced food and a strong agriculture sector." The Chancellor reported that she would be saying this to farmers when she meets with them on Monday.

The limits to freedom of opinion – where hatred and rabble-rousing begin

Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned hatred and rabble-rousing, which are a threat to society. "In our society there is friction, which ought to trouble us." She pointed to the murder of local politician Walter Lübcke and the attack on a synagogue in Halle.

"We have freedom of opinion in our country," stressed Chancellor Angela Merkel, even if some people say this is not the case. This freedom has limits though, "and those limits begin where we see rabble-rousing, where hatred is spread, and where the dignity of other people is violated". Anyone expressing an opinion "has to live with contradictory opinions," said Angela Merkel. "There can be no uncontested and absolute freedom of opinion."

"We have a lot to do. I believe we should carry on with our work for the rest of this legislative period. I’m up for it!" ended the Chancellor.