Merkel and Hollande strive to rally crisis-hit EU

By Gavin Lee
BBC News, Strasbourg

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image captionPresident Hollande urged EU members not to retreat into their nationalist shells at a time of crisis

The two speeches could have been written by the same hand.

Each leader focused on the crises leading to the fractures within the EU, with the message, themes - and even words - near-identical.

They called for unity, solidarity and fairness in the responses they urged were needed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew parallels between the EU of today and that of 1989 - the last time leaders of France and Germany spoke here together, when after the fall of the Berlin Wall President Francois Mitterrand and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke of Europe's responsibility to absorb the mass movement of people from East Germany.

Today, issues covered included the Greek financial crisis and the implications for the euro, conflict in the east of Ukraine and the wider threat of terrorism. But it was the mass movement of people that was the dominating issue.

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image captionThere was some praise and muted cheers throughout the speeches
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image captionBoth leaders agreed that the mass movement of people in Europe was the dominating issue

Europe was being "too slow to recognise the consequences of the crisis", President Hollande warned, saying that if a political solution was not found soon, the problems would worsen.

"If we allow religious conflict between Shia and Sunni - and this has been the case over many months and years - if we allow that to grow further, then do not think for one moment that we will be protected," he said.

"This will be total war which could spread to our own territories, and we must act."

He was applauded by some when urging member states not to "retreat into their own nationalist shells at a time of crisis".

Stinging comments

Angela Merkel delivered her speech in characteristic low-key, no frills style but described the crisis as a "trial of historic measure" for the EU.

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image captionMerkel drew parallels between the EU of today and that of 1989 - when the Berlin Wall fell

From a chancellor not known for hyperbole, it underlined the scale of the challenge.

"We need more than ever before the cohesion and the courage that Europe has always shown in the past when it really mattered, and Germany and France are standing ready."

There was some praise and muted cheers throughout the speeches. The opposition was small but the most vocal, and it came in stinging comments from nationalist MEPs afforded a rare opportunity to question the leaders.

United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told the chamber he felt France and Germany's "once-noble intentions" for a united Europe had "gone rotten".

He then directly addressed President Hollande, saying that "France is diminished, trapped inside a currency from which it can't recover", and called the French voice "no more than a pipsqueak" against a German-dominated Europe.

The leaders looked bemused by the comments.

At Mr Farage's words, Chancellor Merkel notably stopped taking notes, looked away and then back again, as if exhausted by a tiresome child in the classroom she did not know how to discipline.

Far-right MEP and leader of France's Front National, Marine Le Pen, accused the leaders of "absurdly trying to dominate", and stood up to deliver a memorably scathing line directed at Mrs Merkel: "I do not recognize you Madam."

Overall the historic joint speeches were rich in rhetoric, urging the consideration of a political approach to the root cause of the conflict in Syria.

But there were no new details on a solution to the consequences of the conflict or the spiralling migrant crisis.