German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday outlined an ambitious program for Germany's European Union presidency, saying the bloc needed to set a timetable for adopting an EU constitution, and revive talks on a global trade deal as well as a partnership agreement with Russia.
Addressing the European Parliament, Merkel also said the EU must strive for solidarity within its 27 nations, and resist political extremism and religious intolerance.
"The reflection pause is over. By June, we must reach a decision on what to do with the constitution," she told EU lawmakers during her first appearance at the EU assembly, adding that Europe needed less red tape and more streamlined decision-making.
"It is in the interest of Europe to end this process successfully by the next European elections in 2009," she said.
Merkel said completing global trade talks would be one of the priorities of her country's six-month EU presidency, saying Europe must "take a resolute stand" to achieve a successful outcome.
"There is too much to lose for us and the developing countries," she said, adding that only a short window of opportunity existed to complete trade talks.
Merkel said the EU needed a broad partnership with Russia based on a new agreement, but could not ignore Russia's squabbles with neighboring countries.
"We intend to do everything we can for a new partnership and cooperation agreement with Russia to begin under the German presidency," she said. "We need reliable partnership with Russia."
Germany has raised high expectations with its resolute drive to revive the EU constitution, which was ratified by 18 states but rejected in Dutch and French referendums in 2005. Merkel said she would consult all 27 EU nations to see what reservations they had and which parts of the charter could be rescued to form the basis of a new document.
France faces a presidential election this year, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country also has reservations against the constitution, is set to leave office.
Germany wants to save as much as possible of the draft text, which was designed to accelerate policy-making and give the EU, now comprising 489 million people, more visibility on the world stage by creating the posts of EU president and foreign minister.
"We need a foreign minister for Europe. That's enough of a reason to adopt a constitutional treaty," she told the EU Parliament, earning a standing ovation. "We must give a soul to Europe, we have to find Europe's soul. Any failure could be a historic failure."
In her speech, Merkel gave no details on how she would reach many of her goals. She gave no hints about whether she would push for a cut in EU farm spending, which diplomats say is key to any global trade deal.
Relations with Russia, another key challenge, remain strained. Merkel repeated that Russia's decision this month to cut oil exports in a dispute with its Belarus neighbor was worrying. She made no mention of Poland's veto of plans to relaunch a partnership deal with Moscow, saying only that she hoped to relaunch the talks during the next six months, reports AP.
The European Commission has proposed sweeping cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions and the breakup of European energy giants, probably including Germany's E.ON AG and RWE.AG. Merkel avoided taking a position on these proposals, calling only for "cooperation on energy issues."
Speaking after Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he agreed with her priorities. He repeated his goal of getting an agreement to cut carbon emissions inside the EU by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
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