The foreign ministers of Britain and Germany clashed on their vision for Europe on Tuesday, with William Hague saying Berlin’s integration drive was alienating many in the bloc.
Hague told a foreign policy forum in Berlin that the push for ever-greater coordination in areas like the banking sector and national budgets to fight the euro crisis risked in fact driving a wedge through the EU.
“The coalition government is committed to Britain playing a leading role in the EU but I must also be frank: public disillusionment with the EU in our country is the deepest it has ever been,” the British foreign secretary said.
“People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say… People feel that the EU is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level.”
He added: “These points may be felt most acutely in Britain but they’re not felt only in Britain.”
As Europe faces a growing gulf between the 17 countries of the eurozone and the remaining 10 EU member states, Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted all 27 including Britain should encourage a sustainable end to the euro crisis.
“All Europeans, and not just those in the eurozone, share an interest in a strong Europe and a healthy euro,” Westerwelle said.
He said Berlin’s drive for a fiscal union imposing budgetary discipline, which Britain has declined to join, and EU plans for a banking union were part of a crucial integration process that would be beneficial for all.
“We need to develop Europe further,” he insisted, comparing European reforms to “diamonds, formed under great pressure”.
Tensions between Britain and Germany over Berlin’s push for greater European policy coordination have come to a head in recent weeks.
A report in the weekly Der Spiegel this month said that Chancellor Angela Merkel in private compares British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet members to the grumpy Muppets Statler and Waldorf, grumbling from sidelines.
The German government has declined to comment on the report and on Monday joined Britain in denying that Merkel would have a November EU summit on the bloc’s seven-year budget scrapped if Britain threatened to veto a deal.
Germany is calling for a one-percent spending increase, a proposal Hague again dismissed as “massive” at a time when Britain is implementing swingeing cuts to its own public budget.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]