Germany does not want 'diktat' on Europe
In his first-ever speech on the European Union, German President Joachim Gauck on Friday (22 February) told crisis-hit countries that there is no threat of them being ruled by "German diktat."
Eleven months in office, the avowed pro-European and former East German dissident said there is a growing frustration among EU citizens, fuelled by daily reports about the euro-crisis, bailouts and summit diplomacy.
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"In some member states people are afraid of becoming the paymasters of the crisis. In other countries there is a growing fear of constant austerity measures and social decline. To many EU citizens, giving and taking, borrowing and lending, responsibility and contribution seem no longer rightly and fairly divided within the community of Europeans," he noted.
He added that the new mistrust comes on top of older anti-EU sentiments - dislike of Brussels red tape, its lack of transparency, the growing power of the EU Council and the Franco-German tandem out-powering smaller members.
"This crisis has more than just an economic dimension. It is a crisis of trust in the political project called Europe. We are fighting not only for our currency. We are also fighting ourselves," Gauck said.
Alluding to Greek protesters' recent depictions of Chancellor Angela Merkel as a Nazi, the President said he was "startled" to learn that some people in southern EU countries think Berlin is enforcing austerity in a "criminal" way and trying to create a "German Europe."
"I want to reassure all citizens in neighbouring countries: I don't see anyone among policy makers in Germany who is aiming for a German diktat. So far, society has acted rationally and maturely. In Germany, no populist-nationalistic party has found enough public support to make it into parliament. I can say this out of my innermost conviction: In Germany, more Europe doesn't mean a German Europe. More Europe to us means a European Germany," he noted.
"We do not want to intimidate others or to force our ideas onto them, but we stand by our experiences and we would like to share them," he added.
Gauck recalled that just 10 years ago, Germany was considered "the sick man of Europe."
He said it got back to prosperity by embarking on painful reforms.
But he added a further conciliatory message, saying: "At the same time we know there are various economic concepts and not just one way of reaching this goal."
He also chastised those German politicians, mainly from centre-right and liberal parties, who openly toyed with the idea of a Greek euro-exit or portrayed southern Europeans as lazy or dishonest.
He said their comments were "cold-hearted … know-it-all," but also that they were "exceptions."
"It should be clear to us Germans that when you trust your own arguments, you don't need to provoke or humiliate other people," Gauck, who was in his time also a Protestant pastor, added.
Germany needs Britain
The President, whose post is mostly ceremonial, also underlined the importance for the UK to stay in the European Union after British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced he aims to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017.
"Dear Englishmen, Scots, Welsh, northern Irish and Brits, we want to have you here with us," he said.
"We need your experience as country with the oldest parliamentary democracy. We need your traditions, your sobriety, your courage. Your intervention in the Second World War helped rescue our Europe - it is also your Europe," he added.
He noted that English has become the "lingua franca" for young people in Europe.
In what would be an irony if the UK were to go, Gacuk noted that it would be almost impossible for a German to understand a Portuguese or a Latvian person unless they spoke some English in common.