Germany makes case for British EU membership
By Honor Mahony
Germany has told the UK it is an important and needed member of the European Union, just days after London spelled out its deep ambivalence about its EU future.
"Britain is an important partner in the European Union," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of her centre-right CDU party on Monday (29 October), adding that she would travel to London next week to meet Prime Minister David Cameron.
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She noted London's emphasis on free trade and the single market, with Berlin viewing the UK as a key counterbalance to more protectionist-minded southern states.
"Britain has to some extent other ideas (about Europe), it does not want such close integration. But from the German perspective, from the point of view of our interests it is an important member of the EU. They are for free trade, for greater competitiveness, so they are a very good partner," she said, according to Reuters.
Her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said much the same at an event in Saint Anthony's College in Oxford.
"In my view the British voice is sorely needed in this competition of ideas," he said, with the EU currently discussing future reforms.
"I firmly believe Europe would be the poorer without this input to our debates. Britain should retain and regain a place at the centre of Europe because this will be good for the European Union."
The public display of diplomatic affection comes after what has been seen as a change in the UK's relations with the EU.
London has long been known for its luke-warm EU disposition - clearly on display in a speech by foreign minister William Hague in Berlin last week. But in recent months its expressions of disaffection have increasingly been met with shrugs of indifference as other member states attempt to overcome the eurozone's financial and economic problems.
The EU's own response to London's criticism has become more aggressive.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso attends debates in the European Parliament armed with facts on Britain so he can retaliate to jibes from British eurosceptics. Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, recently defending the EU's proposed budget, was able to spell out exactly how much the EU budget costs in comparison to British spending on its fire brigade.
Meanwhile the EU's long-term budget itself, due to be negotiated at a summit on 22-23 November in Brussels, is being viewed as something of a testing point in London's EU relations.
Prime Minister Cameron, under severe pressure from his own Conservative party to deliver a hardline stance on Europe, threatened to veto the budget if he considers it too high.
The tense relations between London and Brussels has prompted former prime minister Tony Blair to take the stage on EU affairs once more.
In a speech to the Council for the Future of Europe in Berlin on Monday, Blair said creating a two-speed Europe would put the EU on a "path to break up."
"It is massively in Britain's interest not to play short-term politics with this issue. Personally I would like to see the UK take a constructive role in shaping this new union," he said, according to the Guardian.