Merkel reclaims role of EU anchor in outline of her 2018 agenda

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll team up with France to hold the European Union together and pledged to her form next government “without delay.”

In a New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel outlined a vision for her fourth term that includes an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen Europe’s economic clout and control migration, while upholding values of tolerance and pluralism within the EU and abroad.

“Twenty-seven countries in Europe must be impelled more strongly than ever to remain a community,” Merkel said in a copy of the speech provided by her office in advance of the televised address on Sunday.

“That will be the decisive question of the next few years. Germany and France want to work together to make it succeed.”

Merkel’s effort to combine the strengths of the euro area’s two biggest economies has been hamstrung by Germany’s longest post-election party deadlock since World War II, which has left her a caretaker chancellor since September. Exploratory talks on renewing her coalition with the Social Democrats are due to start on Jan. 7.

‘Stable Government’

After a poll this week suggested that Germans increasingly don’t want Merkel, 63, to serve another full term, the chancellor sought to put her stamp on the political debate. Merkel said she’s committed to forming “a stable government for Germany without delay in the new year.”

That’s likely to be more difficult than in the past, especially after Merkel’s attempt to create a coalition with the Free Democratic Party and the Greens collapsed in November. After serving as Merkel’s junior partner for eight of her 12 years in office, voter support for the Social Democrats slumped to a postwar low in September.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the former finance minister who’s now president of Germany’s lower house, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper that a stable alliance with the SPD is preferable, though governing without a parliamentary majority would be an option if talks with the Social Democrats fail.

Looking back on a year that brought a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the early years after World War II, Merkel acknowledged a growing divide between the winners of Germany’s economic boom and those left behind who worry about crime, violence and migration.

“Both are realities in our country: success and confidence, but also fears and doubts,” Merkel said. “Both are sources of motivation for me.”

More than half of the supporters of both Merkel’s CDU-CSU bloc and the SPD expect them to agree on another “grand coalition” of the two biggest parties, according to a December 19-21 YouGov poll of 2,036 people.

Even so, 47 percent want Merkel to step down before the end of the four-year mandate her party won in September, up from 36 percent in October, according to the survey published Wednesday.