Europe’s leaders stress national politics in New Year greetings

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French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made only brief references to the European Union in their New Year messages, with differing assessments of how successful attempts to overcome the eurozone crisis have been.

In his New Year's greetings, Hollande said that the EU only made headway in tackling the eurozone crisis in the months after he took office.

“Tonight I want to tell you my confidence in our future: the eurozone has been saved and Europe has finally put in place the instruments stability and growth that it missed. This result seemed out of reach, only six months ago," Hollande said. "Now it has been reached.”

That was the French premier's only reference to the EU in a speech which also described his confidence in the future, as relying mainly on France.

Hollande's main goal was apparently limiting the damage of a Constitutional Court decision on 28 December, which dealt a blow to his most emblematic pre-election promise of a 75% tax on those with a yearly income above one million euros.

The French Court said the tax was unfair as it would hit married couples with one partner earning above a million euros, while couples each earning just under a million would not be affected. Hollande pledged to press ahead with a redrafted law.

"We will still ask more of those who have the most," Hollande said in his New Year's address, without providing details of the new proposal.

Merkel less optimistic

Merkel also made little reference to the EU, but was less optimistic than Hollande about the efforts made to stem the eurocrisis so far.

She said Germany's ageing population needed to “prepare for the demographic change” and bring its public finances in order, as well as to set “the right balance” between prosperity and cohesion.

“How important this balance [is] has been reflected by the European sovereign debt crisis. The reforms that we have decided have begun to bear fruit. Nevertheless, we still need a lot of patience. The crisis is far from over,” Merkel said.

The German Chancellor also said that 2013 would be the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, signed on 22 January 1963 by French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Elysée Treaty and ‘Dinner for two’ anniversary

She also mentioned that 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the first Hamburg recording of the classic "Dinner for One" comedy sketch, a New Year's Eve ritual in Germany and Austria.

The TV show went viral one year ago, in a parody by Germany’s ARD television  in which Miss Sophie (Merkel) sits down at an empty table for a grand 90th birthday banquet with imaginary, long-dead guests (including Berlusconi and former Spanish leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) while being served by the hapless butler James (Nicolas Sarkozy).

Reuters reported that in her address, Merkel indirectly contradicted Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble who, in an interview on 27 December in Bild newspaper, said that the worst of the crisis was over.

According to analysts, Merkel gave a cautious speech because she faces elections in September and wants to avoid raising expectations before the ballot.

Although Merkel's conservative CDU party holds a commanding 10-point lead over the Social Democrats (SPD) in polls, the centre-left and its Greens allies have a chance of taking power because Merkel's coalition allies, the Free Democrats (FDP) have slumped badly and may not win seats.

Nevertheless, political analysts believe Merkel will still have the most options to form a government after the vote. She could lead a right-left grand coalition with the SPD as she did from 2005 to 2009 or a coalition with the Green party.

In his New Year's message Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that his country could emerge from recession and boost its economy only with “a stronger push and credible proposals for further integration” in the EU.

Napolitano, who is 87 and whose term expires this year, said that Italy is not a country that would be “passive” performer in the EU, as it is among the countries that have founded and built the Union.

Polish President Bronis?aw Komorowski said in his New Year message that despite the eurozone crisis, 2012 and been a good year for his country.

“Our efforts, our work once again yielded good fruit. We were able - in times of crisis in the European economy - to defend our growth and maintain the competitiveness of our economy. We were able, not without faults and difficulties, to use the money from EU funds to make up the huge backlog of historical time, including in the construction and modernisation of Polish roads and highways,” the Polish President said.

He added that the football cup ‘Euro 2012’ which his country co-hosted with Ukraine had been “not only a source of live sports and elation, but also a good opportunity to show the whole world how a modernising Poland was becoming more prosperous.

Spanish King Juan Carlos said in his New Year message that it was “no exaggeration” to say that his country was living through one of the most difficult times of its modern history.

Sitting on a table, he also said that Spain would continue to work with the EU “to overcome purely national visions” and strengthen the foundations of solidarity with had so helped the European integration process.  Common achievements, such as individual rights, social and economic welfare, and the process of economic and political integration, should not be risked, the Spanish Head of State said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron made no reference to the EU in his 2013 address. He said 2012 had been an “extraordinary year” for his country.

“We celebrated our Queen with the Jubilee. And with the Olympics and Paralympics we showed beyond any doubt that Britain can deliver. It was a great year. But, if we are honest, it was a tough one too,” Cameron said.

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