Germany’s president appealed on Friday to the people of the United Kingdom to remain members of the EU, in a speech intended to counter euroscepticism across the continent.
“Dear people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, dear new British citizens!” declared Joachim Gauck. “We would like you to stay with us!”
His appeal to British pride and patriotism – “During the second world war, your efforts helped to save our Europe, and it is also your Europe,” he said – underlined a deep concern in Berlin that a referendum in the UK, promised by David Cameron, the prime minister, could see a British vote to leave the EU.
“We will only be able to master future challenges if we work together. More Europe cannot mean a Europe without you!”
The speech, delivered to an invited audience in the Schloss Bellevue, the presidential residence in the German capital, and televised live, had been trailed as a fundamental restatement of Germany’s European engagement. As state president, Mr Gauck – a former East German Protestant pastor – is seen as the apolitical conscience of the nation and a guarantor of national values.
He dismissed accusations that Germany was seeking to intimidate its EU partners, or force its ideas on them, in laying down the rules to recover from the eurozone crisis.
“I am concerned that Germany’s role in the European process is currently being regarded with scepticism and distrust in some countries,” he said. He was shocked at how quickly perceptions became distorted, “as if today’s Germany was continuing in the tradition of German great power politics, or even German crimes”.
Unlike in other EU member states, not a single populist or nationalist had won a seat in the German parliament, Mr Gauck said. But he warned German politicians against showing too little empathy for the economic plight of their eurozone partners.
“If critical comments have been disdainful or even contemptuous in tone, then that is not only morally reprehensible but also politically counter-productive . . . This union is characterised by give and take . . . It is based on the principles of reciprocity, equal rights and equal obligations.”
Addressing an audience including both young Germans and European diplomats, Mr Gauck was careful not to criticise the eurozone crisis management of Angela Merkel, the chancellor. “This is not just a struggle for our currency,” he said. Europe was facing more than an economic crisis. “It is also a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project.”
“When I see all the signs of people’s impatience, exhaustion and frustration, when I hear about polls showing a populace unsure about pursuing ‘more’ Europe, it seems to me that we are pausing on a new threshold – unsure whether we should really stride out on the onward journey,” he added.
“More Europe” was necessary – not least to stabilise the common currency – but that meant spelling out a clearer vision of the future. Europe was united not by some ancient battles, or dusty monuments, but by its common values and rule of law.
“We stand together . . . for peace and freedom, for democracy and the rule of law, for equality, human rights and solidarity.”
Those European values were “set down in treaties, enshrined in legislation, and they can be enforced courts of law”, he added, with a choice of words that might alarm more monarchist or eurosceptic British voters. “They form a point of reference for our republican world view,” he added.
Twice he repeated his vision of working towards a “European res publica”, the Latin words that are the root of the word “republic”. More accurately, and to British ears more reassuringly, they can also be translated as “commonwealth”.
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