Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to “fight” for the European Union, showcasing a renewed Franco-German bid to unite the bloc as a campaign theme just over two months before a national election.
Speaking at a campaign rally of her Christian Democratic Union party on the North Sea coast on Friday, Merkel said the EU is “more than a common market” and contrasted her embrace of the bloc with the U.K.’s exit and anti-EU populism that featured in the French and Dutch elections this year. It was the first of four coastal campaign stops over two days.
“I think a lot of people have reconsidered what Europe is actually worth to us,” Merkel told a crowd in the northern German fishing village of Neuharlingersiel. The EU “is the guarantor for living in peace and security, ladies and gentlemen — and it’s worth fighting for.”
A day after Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron held a joint cabinet meeting in Paris to forge a common front on euro-area integration and defense cooperation, the chancellor said the collaboration with the new French leader was a “great pleasure.”
As Merkel seeks her fourth term in office in the Sept. 24 election, her pro-EU campaign contrasts with political forces across Europe, including France’s National Front and supporters of Brexit, that gained strength by pillorying the EU and its institutions in Brussels.
As many Germans begin their summer vacations, some 2,500 people gathered to hear the chancellor in the picturesque fishing port, a transit point for vacationers heading to islands off the coast. Merkel planned to move on to two more coastal destinations later Friday, wrapping up a CDU “summer tour” on Saturday on the Baltic Coast of her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Amid tourists and CDU supporters, Merkel’s message resonated with 46-year-old Heike Claassen, a small-business owner who came to the campaign stop with her son and daughter. She said her top concerns were “security in Europe, support for the economy, including small- and medium-sized businesses.”
Merkel contrasted a united EU with an increasingly isolated U.S. under President Donald Trump, who also held talks with Macron in Paris before attending France’s Bastille Day festivities. A week after hosting the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Merkel underscored that other nations stood by their commitments to the Paris climate accord, from which Trump withdrew.
“Nineteen countries said that ‘we’re standing by the climate treaty, that it’s irreversible,’” Merkel said. “This is a challenge of the century and we’ll confront it.”
Days before going on summer vacation herself, polls show Merkel’s faction in a good position before the main campaigning begins next month. Her CDU-led bloc drew 39 percent support, 17 points ahead of the rival Social Democrats, a July 11 Forsa poll showed.
Not all the residents of the village of about 1,000 were happy about Merkel’s campaign stop. Martin Bengen, who runs a nearby fish restaurant, said the costs for putting on the rally were “much too high” after the government spent millions on the G-20 summit.
“This is just crazy what’s going on here,” Bengen said. “Merkel is making a campaign tour on the back of taxpayers.”