Don’t turn your back on Europe, Germany urges UK

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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 yesterday 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, Europe’s biggest economy, 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.

Meanwhile, the European Union predicted yesterday that the economy of the 17 eurozone member countries will shrink again in 2013 even though it will see its fortunes improve in the second half of the year, . In its winter forecast, the EU Commission said the eurozone is likely to shrink a further 0.3 per cent this year, in contrast to November’s prediction of 0.1 per cent growth.

Across the eurozone, it said the debt crisis and the associated belt-tightening are weighing on activity – official figures showed the eurozone contracted 0.6 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 from the previous three-month period.

The eurozone has been in recession – officially defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth – since the second quarter of 2012, when concerns about the future of the euro were particularly acute. Many countries are in deep recessions, such as Greece and Spain, as they push spending cuts and tax increases to deal with their public finances.

Others have suffered in the fallout, such as export powerhouse Germany. Europe’s largest economy, which contracted by a quarterly rate of 0.6 per cent in the final quarter of 2012.