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Germany takes over the European Union's six-month presidency Wednesday, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel staking her legacy on a massive economic recovery plan to help the bloc cope with the coronavirus fallout.
Merkel's last major role on the international stage comes as the 27-member club faces its deepest recession since World War II, triggered by a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people globally.
The crisis has galvanised Europe's most powerful leader who, with just over a year left in her final term, has ditched her usual wait-and-see approach to call for "extraordinary measures" to weather the storm.
"Europe's future is our future," Merkel said Monday as she stood beside French President Emmanuel Macron to push for a 750-billion-euro ($843 billion) coronavirus recovery fund.
Analysis: German EU presidency brings 'sigh of relief' to coronavirus-ravaged Europe
The proposed fund would controversially be financed through shared EU borrowing and marks a stunning U-turn for Germany after years of opposition to debt pooling.
The EU's rotating presidency is Merkel's "last chance" to make her mark as one of Europe's great leaders, Der Spiegel weekly wrote, adding that it was time for Germany to shoulder more responsibility as the bloc's biggest nation and top economy.
"For years the chancellor put off dealing with the chronic problems of the EU and the euro. Now, towards the end of her political career, she has the opportunity to make up for past mistakes," Spiegel wrote.
There will be no shortage of challenges to tackle in the months ahead.
Post-Brexit negotiations, a more assertive China, rocky transatlantic ties, climate change and the conflicts in Libya and Syria will all be jostling for attention, even if the pandemic promises to dominate the agenda.
Germany kicked off its EU custodianship by projecting the words "Together for Europe's recovery" onto Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate late Tuesday.
After 15 years in office, Merkel is the bloc's longest-serving leader and held the EU presidency once before, in 2007.
But the stakes are higher this time.
A first major test will come at a July 17-18 EU summit, where Merkel hopes leaders will reach an agreement on the 750-billion-euro rescue fund put forward by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen — Merkel's former defence minister.
The money is expected to come mainly in the form of grants for countries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as debt-laden Italy and Spain.
But so-called frugal nations including Austria and the Netherlands want to reign in the sRead More – Source[contf] [contfnew]