Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

We need Britain in EU, says Germany

German President Joachim Gauck has urged Britain not to turn its back on Europe (AP)
German President Joachim Gauck has urged Britain not to turn its back on Europe (AP)

Germany's president is appealing to Britain not to turn its back on the European Union, while voicing understanding for its frustration with the EU. President Joachim Gauck said in a speech today that only a more united Europe can be a global player.

That prospect is opposed by many in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron has offered a future referendum on whether to leave the EU. Mr Gauck said of Britons: "We need your traditions, your soberness and your courage." He added: "More Europe should not mean 'without you.'" Germany's presidency has little executive power but carries moral authority.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has often been criticised abroad for its approach to the debt crisis but Mr Gauck says no one there aspires to give orders to other countries. Mr Gauck acknowledged that "there are signs of impatience, exhaustion and frustration among citizens" with the 27-nation EU, as many of its members struggle with budget deficits and recession.

"This crisis has more than just an economic dimension - it is also a crisis of confidence in the political project of Europe," he said. However, Mr Gauck stressed the commitment of Germany to European integration.

"In the globalised world of today with the big new emerging countries," only a united Europe can assert itself as a global player," he said, arguing that Europe needs greater political cohesion.

Referring to Britain, he said: "You helped rescue our Europe with your deployment in the Second World War - it is also your Europe."

Germany has played a major part in setting the tone for the response to Europe's debt crisis and has often been criticised abroad for its insistence on tough austerity measures and perceptions of a heavy-handed approach by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

"I am appalled by how quickly perceptions became distorted, as though today's Germany stands in a tradition of German big-power politics, even German crimes," Mr Gauck said.

He added, "I assure all citizens in neighbouring countries that, among the political leaders in Germany, I see no one who seeks a German diktat" - shorthand for imposing German orders on the rest of Europe. He insisted that deeper unity means a "European Germany," not a "German Europe."

Mr Gauck, once a pro-democracy activist in communist East Germany, has no party affiliation and was elected last year with the support both of Mrs Merkel's coalition and the main opposition parties.

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