Angela Merkel tells British parliament European Union needs a strong UK

German leader tells British lawmakers of need for financial co-operation and less red tape

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 9:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 1:21am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wooed a sceptical audience of British lawmakers yesterday with a call for a strong, unified Europe with Britain at its heart.

Merkel addressed Britain's Parliament during a visit full of ceremony and political purpose.

Prime Minister David Cameron sees Merkel as a potential ally in reshaping the European Union and laid on lunch at his Downing Street residence and tea with Queen Elizabeth on top of the speech to lawmakers.

The pomp stands in contrast to a recent visit by France's socialist President Francois Hollande, who was treated to a press conference in an aircraft hangar and lunch in a pub.

Merkel, who shares some of Cameron's centre-right views, said the euro-zone economic crisis had driven home the need for a tighter rein on the bloc's finances. She backed the idea of closer economic co-ordination and less bureaucracy.

"We must always bear in mind that the world is not waiting for Europe - economic strength and competitiveness must constantly be strengthened and renewed," she said.

She also stressed the importance of freedom of trade and movement and "a Europe without borders".

Merkel said she was "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea" of Britain's Eurosceptic and pro-European forces, and predicted her speech would disappoint both sides.

She was an enthusiastic guest at Parliament, warmly praising Britain for its fight against Nazism during the second world war and speaking for long stretches in English. "We need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside the European Union," she said.

MPs and peers laughed as Merkel, who recalled her first visit to London in 1990 shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, said those expecting a "fundamental reform of the European architecture" in Britain's direction would be disappointed.

She made it clear that her main priority was to strengthen the euro - by ensuring that monetary union was matched by an economic union among euro- zone members - with "clear cut and resilient architecture". This would leave little room for special treatment for one member state.

The German chancellor gave little indication whether she would countenance a major revision of the Lisbon treaty - a key Cameron demand to allow him to table his demands - when she said simply that new EU governance arrangements would be introduced through the "necessary legal instruments".

The speech appeared to be designed to inject a dose of reality ahead of the negotiations, in which Cameron hopes to introduce widespread reforms of the EU if he wins the 2015 general election. Cameron would then hold an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

Additional reporting by The Guardian