The President of Germany has issued an unexpected and emotional appeal to the British people not to abandon the European Union.
In a keynote speech on Europe, Joachim Gauck, a hugely popular former East German dissident, said that while it was up to the British people to “decide on their own future” he hoped they would listen to his case for the UK to remain within the EU.
Using rather unconventional diplomatic language, he said: “Dear people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, dear new British citizens.
“We would like you to stay with us. We need your experience as the oldest parliamentary democracy, we need your traditions, your pragmatism and your courage.
“During the Second World War, your efforts helped to save our Europe – and it is also your Europe. Let us continue to engage in discussion on how to move towards the European res publica, for we will only be able to master future challenges if we work together. More Europe cannot mean a Europe without you.”
Mr Gauck’s comments about Britain and the EU were the first to draw applause from the 200 guests attending the speech, which was delivered in his official Berlin residence today. Most of the audience were under 30.
His remarks reflected the serious concerns held by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government about Britain’s perceived distancing from Europe and David Cameron’s readiness to be influenced by the anti-Europe wing of his own party and the United Kingdom Independence Party.
Indeed, President Gauck prefaced his appeal with implied criticism of Mr Cameron. He said he “listened with interest” to the Prime Minister’s “dual message” of the “Yes” to British traditions and to British interests “which is not intended to be a ‘No’ to Europe”.
Public opinion on the issue in Germany is divided. Several columnists have argued that the British will never be fully-fledged EU members because of their insular outlook and that they should therefore leave.
But many other commentators have welcomed Mr Cameron’s criticisms of the EU’s lack of democratic accountability and its overspending. Some have also suggested that they would welcome such candid views from German politicians.
Germany also believes that Britain is a useful counterbalance to France in disagreements in areas such as the EU budget. It fears an EU without Britain would veer to the left with decisions being pushed through between an alliance of France and left-leaning Southern European states.
In his speech Mr Gauck addressed some of the fears held by EU citizens about the eurozone debt crisis and acknowledged that a “structural flaw” had led to an imbalance in the European Union which was only patched up by emergency measures such as the European Stability Mechanism and the fiscal compact. But he added that the crisis wa s more than just economic. “It is also a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project,” he said.
Stressing Germany’s commitment to Europe he insisted: “It was from our country that the attempts to destroy everything European and all universal values were unleashed. Despite everything, the Allies granted our country support and solidarity straight after the war.” Mr Gauck insisted that despite Berlin’s economic might, it had no aspirations to impose a “German diktat” on Europe.