Britain, Germany clash over road ahead for EU

October 23, 2012 1:24 pm
Britain’s foreign minister William Hague speaks at the Berlin Foreign Policy forum in Berlin/AFP

, BERLIN, Oct 23 – The foreign ministers of Britain and Germany clashed Tuesday on their vision for Europe, with William Hague saying Berlin’s integration drive was alienating many in the bloc.

Hague told a foreign policy forum in Berlin that the push for ever-greater coordination in areas like the banking sector and national budgets to fight the euro debt crisis risked in fact driving a wedge through the EU.

“The coalition government is committed to Britain playing a leading role in the EU but I must also be frank: public disillusionment with the EU in our country is the deepest it has ever been,” Hague said.

“People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say… People feel that the EU is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level.”

He added: “These points may be felt most acutely in Britain but they’re not felt only in Britain.”

As Europe faces a growing gulf between the 17 countries of the eurozone and the remaining 10 EU member states, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle insisted all 27 including Britain should push for a sustainable end to the euro crisis.

“All Europeans, and not just those in the eurozone, share an interest in a strong Europe and a healthy euro,” Westerwelle said.

He said Berlin’s drive for a fiscal union imposing budgetary discipline, which Britain has declined to join, and EU plans for a banking union were part of a crucial integration process that would benefit all.

And he said that beyond bolstering security cooperation to play a bigger role in world crisis management, Europe should work toward common globalisation strategies to grapple with rivals such as China.

“We need to develop Europe further,” he insisted, comparing European reforms to “diamonds, formed under great pressure”.

Tensions between Britain and Germany over Berlin’s push for greater European policy coordination have come to a head in recent weeks.

A report in the weekly Der Spiegel this month said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel in private compares British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet members to the grumpy Muppets Statler and Waldorf, grumbling from the sidelines.

The German government has declined to comment on the report and on Monday it joined Britain in denying that Merkel would have a November EU summit on the bloc’s seven-year budget scrapped if Britain threatened to veto a deal.

Germany backs the European Commission’s call for a spending increase of around one percent, a proposal Hague again dismissed as “massive” at a time when Britain is implementing swingeing cuts to its own budget.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who also took part in the debate and whose country has frequently sided with Germany in its austerity drive to beat the euro crisis, voiced concern about growing British euroscepticism.

“I am really worried about the UK and the way it is going,” he said.

“I think if the UK is marginalised or marginalises itself… it will be bad for Europe and bad for Britain.”

Hague said the EU needed to solve three problems to maintain its relevance: structuring the bloc so countries could pursue different levels of integration, dealing with a lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability and getting the right balance between what the EU does or does not do.

In a later debate, Westerwelle appealed to London not to drift away from Europe.

“We want to have Great Britain on board,” he said. “We think Great Britain is not an island in the middle of the Atlantic, it is a European country, there is no doubt for us.”


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