Merkel: Europe in toughest times since World War II

Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:31am EST
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By Noah Barkin and Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that Europe must move step-by-step toward political union, calling the euro zone debt crisis the continent's "toughest hour since World War Two".

In a one-hour address to thousands of delegates from her Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel offered no new ideas for resolving the crisis that has forced bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and has stirred worries about the survival of the 17-state currency zone.

But she made clear that Germany will have to make more sacrifices.

"The challenge of our generation is to finish what we started in Europe, and that is to bring about, step by step, a political union," Merkel told the party congress in the east German city of Leipzig.

"Europe is in one of its toughest, perhaps the toughest hour since World War Two," she said.

The two-day party meeting was supposed to focus on education policy but was dominated from the outset by the euro zone's debt crisis, which showed no signs of abating despite the naming of new technocrat governments in Greece and Italy.

Merkel, who came to power in 2005, does not face an election until 2013, but knows she could easily become another victim of euro turmoil unless she plays her cards right.

The CDU is the party of Helmut Kohl, who led Germany into the euro.   Continued...