Westerwelle Warning: German Foreign Minister Urges Britain to Stay in EU
European politicians are nervously awaiting a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron that they hope will clarify his stance on the country's position in the European Union. Germany's foreign minister is already warning against efforts by the euroskeptic wing of his party to make an exit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is under mounting pressure these days -- at least when it comes to Europe. Given the choice, the euroskeptic wing of his Conservative Party would prefer to bolt the European Union. Later this month, Cameron is expected to hold a major speech about Britain's position in Europe, one that could provide insight into where his conservative-liberal coalition government will steer London in the future and the price it will charge for Britain to remain a part of the EU.
The increasingly shrill tone of the domestic debate over the EU is being viewed by politicians in Berlin with concern. "With a view to the current debate over Great Britain's role in the EU, I would say: Germany desires a Great Britain that will remain a constructive and active partner in the EU," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday.
With his comments, Westerwelle sought to address growing demands from some political camps in Britain demanding that the country leave the 27-nation bloc. "As has been the case so far, the European house will also have different levels of integration, but we would like a deeper and better EU of 27, with Great Britain," the foreign minister said.
On Monday, Michael Link, a minister of state in the German Foreign Ministry, and British Europe Minister David Lidington are scheduled to meet in Berlin as part of the third annual German-British consultation between deputy ministers from the two countries who deal with EU issues.
In a BBC interview, Cameron recently ensured that Great Britain wants to remain a full member of the EU. But if his government is to provide its support for the deeper integration of the euro zone, of which Britain is not a member, then he also wants a few demands fulfilled in exchange. Among other things, he wants to see the European Working Time Directive, which codifies vacation rights and limits working hours, eliminated. He also wants to curb access of EU migrants to the British social system.
Most recently, Cameron rejected the European fiscal pact that had been championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and has since been implemented. The pact went into effect in January and stipulates that signatories implement so-called debt brake balanced-budget legislation by the end of the year and to accept automatic sanctions if they violate those deficit rules. The only EU member states that have not signed on to the fiscal pact are Britain and the Czech Republic.
Washington Also Expresses Concern
A potential secession from the EU has long been a classic element of the domestic political debate in Britain. Cameron himself has offered his most vociferous critics in his party a referendum on the country's EU membership, most recently last October. Such a vote, he said at the time, would be the best way to reach a new agreement with the EU.
The right wing of the Conservative Party has been particularly tenacious in their demands for a referendum. Additional pressure has been heaped on the prime minister by the success of the right-wing United Kingdom Independent Party, which is currently the third-strongest party in public opinion polls.
Cameron, who would like to see his country remain in the EU club, is in a difficult spot. Whereas a significant chunk of his party is opposed to Brussels, wary of EU bureaucracy and afraid that Britain is losing its national sovereignty, the country's economic success depends on its close ties with Europe. Indeed, leading members of the British business community this week warned Cameron in an ad in the Financial Times against attempting to renegotiate the country's membership terms. Such a plan could damage business relations, they said.
The US also views with concern the anti-EU course currently being charted in London. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon warned London this week against seceding from the EU. "We have a growing relationship with the European Union as an institution which has a growing voice in the world -- and we want to see a strong British voice in that European Union," he said. "That is in the American interest."
Just how important Europe -- and particularly Germany -- is to the British economy was made clear recently by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne during a visit to Berlin. "More than half of all British exports go to the EU," Osborne said in an interview with the German daily Die Welt. "We sell more to North Rhine-Westphalia than we do to India. British companies employ 200,000 people in Germany with 400,000 Britons working for German companies in Great Britain."
Following a lunch with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, he said he very much hopes that his country will remain in the EU. "But for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change."
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