BERLIN (AP) — Germany's president appealed to Britain on Friday not to turn its back on the European Union, but insisted that Europe needs deeper unity to remain a significant player in a globalized world.
President Joachim Gauck acknowledged in a speech 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, Gauck stressed the commitment of Germany, Europe's biggest economy, to European integration.
"In the globalized 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. That prospect is unappealing to many in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron has offered a referendum on whether to leave the EU if his party wins the next election.
"We need your traditions, your soberness and your courage," Gauck said of Britons. "You helped rescue our Europe with your deployment in World War II — it is also your Europe." "More Europe should not mean 'without you,'" he said.
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 criticized 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," Gauck said. He added, "I assure all citizens in neighboring 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."
Germany's presidency has little executive power but carries moral authority. Gauck, once a pro-democracy activist in communist East Germany, has no party affiliation and was elected last year with the support both of Merkel's coalition and the main opposition parties.