BERLIN (Reuters) - The premier of Germany's most populous state has become the most senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc to throw his weight behind French President Emmanuel Macron's proposals for deepening and reforming the European Union.
In an article for Thursday's Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Armin Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, embraced proposals for a common European army, intelligence service and, in the long term, a common finance minister.
The proposals could offer a basis for cooperation with the Social Democrats (SPD), who vote on Thursday on whether to enter talks on supporting a new conservative-led government. SPD leader Martin Schulz, a former European Parliament president, is an outspoken advocate of closer European integration.
"In a time of 'eurosclerosis', with (eurosceptic) populists inside Europe and instability on the periphery, Macron wants to work with us to overcome the crisis," wrote Laschet, his party's vice-president. "Europe's crisis, forced by Brexit, offers the chance at last to confront the challenges."
Merkel and most of her party colleagues have been more cautious in their reception of Macron's reform proposals, which include closer cooperation on defense, migration and a deeper integration of the euro currency zone.
He was less specific in addressing Macron's proposals for changing the euro zone's governance mechanisms, saying only: "We need better conditions for investment, and we need harmonization of corporation tax."
Schulz has said that the SPD, reluctant to repeat the bruising experience of being deserted by voters after governing for four years with Merkel in coalition, will discuss Macron's proposals at its three-day party congress starting on Thursday.
"What are our possibilities, our options, our instruments for ensuring that Germany embraces these French ideas?" Schulz asked earlier on Wednesday. "France is making proposals and Germany is not engaging. This is not acceptable."
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Toby Chopra)