UK indispensable to EU, say Germans


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The Independent Online

The German foreign minister today pledged to "build bridges" in the wake of David Cameron's summit veto - insisting Britain was an "indispensable partner" in the EU.

At a joint press conference with Foreign Secretary William Hague in London, Guido Westerwelle said the union had to remain "united".

"For Germany the United Kingdom is an indispensable partner in the European Union," he said. "There is no doubt for us that we want to make the next steps in the EU together as 27, or next with Croatia as 28 countries.

"We think we have a common destiny. We think the EU is not only the answer to the darkest chapter of our history. It is also a life insurance in times of globalisation because no country, not Germany, not Great Britain, not France, no country is strong and big enough to face the challenges of globalisation alone."

He added: "My main message is for the British people - you can count on us, and we count on you."

Mr Westerwelle, who is vice-chancellor in the German coalition government, said he was making an "offer" and a "gesture" to move on from the tensions.

The EU was much more than a "currency" for the German people.

He said a conversation when German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Mr Cameron last week had been very constructive.

"I am here to show you that we are willing to build bridges over troubled water," he added. "I think it is necessary that we understand that we have a mutual interest in a European common future."

Mr Westerwelle said Germany wanted to see that the City of London had a "prosperous" future. Protection for the financial hub was one of the main sticking points that led Britain to withdraw from treaty negotiations.

"There is no hidden agenda against the City of London. We think it is in our common interests, it is in our mutual interests, to have a strong segment of financial service here in the city of London," he said.

Mr Westerwelle insisted that a solution to the current EU crisis was "do-able, if there is goodwill".

Speaking passionately about his childhood experiences of meeting the hostility of French people who were mistreated by Germany during the Second World War and of visiting the Berlin Wall when his country was divided during the Cold War, Mr Westerwelle said that the euro and the EU signified "the answer to the darkest chapter of our history".

"German reunification was also the reunification of Europe. For us, Europe is not only our destiny, it is also our desire," said the German foreign minister.

"For us, Europe is much more than a currency or a single market. It is a key question, it is a political union what we want."

Referring to the row over Mr Cameron's use of the veto, Mr Westerwelle said: "It is not the first time we have had to find answers after a controversy. And we will find answers this time once again - yes we will.

"This is our goal, this is our duty and we will make it. I think it is possible if there is goodwill and if we understand it is in our mutual interest to solve this crisis, to draw the right consequences and to understand we share the same destiny."

Mr Hague said that he and Mr Westerwelle had agreed to identify "urgently" new initiatives to take forward the single market, including more free trade agreements with countries outside the EU.

"Pushing forward the single market, expanding trade within and beyond Europe, should be one of our highest priorities," he said.

"We need trade, we need the expansion of trade between nations, the expansion of trade between Europe and the rest of the world."

He said that Britain stood by its demand for safeguards for the City which Mr Cameron set out at the Brussels summit.

"The requirements that we set at the time of the European Council remain, and absolutely remain requirements for the United Kingdom," he said.

Chancellor George Osborne today discussed proposals for a 200 billion euro package of European loans to the IMF to enhance the international financial body's ability to shore up theeurozone.

In a conference call with 26 other EU finance ministers, Mr Osborne repeated the Government's position that the UK is prepared to take part in global efforts to increase the IMF's resources, but will not participate in any fund intended specifically for the single currency.

Britain is resisting pressure from elsewhere in the EU to contribute up to 50 billion euros (£30 billion) to the package.