Candidates to succeed Merkel defend EU, blast nationalism

BERLIN (AP) — The three leading contenders to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in Germany’s upcoming national election spoke out strongly Thursday in favor of the European Union and its ideals.

In a combative speech, the candidate from Merkel’s center-right Union bloc recalled how the Soviet blockade of West Berlin had demonstrated the importance of international cooperation.

“That was an attack on the free world,” Armin Laschet told lawmakers on the 73rd anniversary of the blockade’s beginning. It ended almost a year later after an unprecedented effort by western Allies to fly essential goods into the besieged city, in what became known as the Berlin Airlift.

“The airlift was the embodiment of the outstretched hand of the United States, Great Britain, France and other countries,” said Laschet, the governor of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“(It showed that) when liberal democracies work together then there’s no chance for division and confrontation,” he added.

Laschet took aim at the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which recently approved a program that includes pulling the country out of the EU.

“We need Europe more than ever,” he said, accusing AfD of “harming German interests.”

“We’re not going to let a deadly virus nor anti-European gloating and skepticism, and certainly not populists and nationalists, destroy this Europe,” said Laschet.

His words were echoed by the candidates for the center-left Social Democrats, Olaf Scholz, and for the environmentalist Greens, Annalena Baerbock.

Scholz praised the EU’s decision to jointly borrow money — an idea long resisted by Germany — for the pandemic recovery fund, but called for the EU to also find solutions to political problems, including the issue of migration.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the European Union, Baerbock said the bloc needs to find “clear language” when it comes to addressing human rights abuses among its own members. She cited the new law in Hungary restricting materials deemed to promote homosexuality, and recent pushbacks of migrants on the Croatian border.

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