Foreign ministers steer EU on different courses | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.10.2012
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Foreign ministers steer EU on different courses

The foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and Finland met in Berlin to discuss Europe's future. Agreement on the consequences of the eurozone crisis and Europe's future is a difficult process.

The European Union was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a foreign policy forum in Berlin - before adding that "the EU is much more than the eurozone." Britain is not and doesn't want to be a member in the common currency.

"The EU's most important accomplishments with the greatest benefit for all of Europe are the creation of the single European market and EU expansion," Hague said.

While Britain has a keen interest in a solution to the eurozone crisis, its visions clash with those of the German government, outlined on Tuesday by Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the start of the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum.

Some 260 participants from more than 50 countries attended the forum, which was organized by the Berlin-based Körber Foundation, to debate Europe's future and its role in the world.

Far-reaching reform

Guido Westerwelle (Foto: Clemens Bilan/dapd

Westerwelle opts for greater policy coordination

"We are in the midst of a formative European phase," Westerwelle told delegates, adding that crises have always led to a leap forward in European mutual consent. He said it is "time to do what was not possible during the founding years of the economic and currency union," that is, supplement it with closer cooperation in financial, fiscal and economic policies. Westerwelle said that means giving Europeans a bigger say in matters: "Europe without full democratic legitimacy would be built on sand."

The German foreign minister argued the goal is not "simply more Europe, but a better Europe." He urged reviving subsidiarity - delegating some matters to less centralized authorities - "not to be confused with re-nationalization." He said he failed to see why it could not be left to individual countries to decide on the introduction of a quota for women in management positions.

More of the same

William Hague Foto: Rainer Jensen/dpa

Hague sees disillusionment with the EU in Britain

Hague, on the other hand, did not appear to conclude European integration should be expanded to other areas in politics. He said it is important to ensure crisis management in the eurozone does not endanger solidarity and achievements within the EU as a whole, and he urged expanding the European single market - the largest in the world - to allow more economic latitude and a stronger European exchange with the world, for instance by forging a free trade agreement with the United States.

As far as Hague is concerned, the EU's second major accomplishment - expansion - is not yet completed. It is in the EU's strategic interest that Turkey remain on course for joining the European bloc, he said, adding that countries such as Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus are European nations anyway.

Hague agreed it makes sense to shift certain responsibilities back to national levels saying, "Sometimes less is more." In order to strengthen democratic legitimacy, he said he would like to give national parliaments more of a say in European affairs.

Concern over euro-skepticism

Alexander Stubb Foto: Rainer Jensen/dpa

Stubb warns Britain is putting itself in the margins

Finland has sided with Germany in its austerity drive and rejection of joint liability. Urging closer integration and a pan-European banking union as a first step, Finland's Europe Minister Alexander Stubb told the conference: "The worst part of the crisis is over if we manage to take the right decisions over the next eight weeks."

The conservative Finish politician, however, dismissed changing European treaties - one of Germany's goals on the path to strengthening European integration. He voiced concern that some in Europe strive for a split between the eurozone and the other EU countries: after all, he said, all EU countries with the exception of Britain and Denmark want the common currency.

He called Britain an essential partner in a strong, free single market. "If the UK is marginalized or marginalizes itself ... it will be bad for Europe and bad for Britain," he added. "William, please: join the banking union, don't sit on the fence - we need you." Stubb said. "Guido, please don't change the institutional framework."

But the German foreign minister remained adamant that one should not miss the opportunity to eliminate weaknesses that have become apparent in EU institutions.

Westerwelle's approach is unlikely to shift even in the event of a change in government next year. At Tuesday's forum, Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats' designated candidate for the chancellorship, recommended experts from China, India and Australia take a look at Europe to see how long-standing conflicts can be solved. Steinbrück, too, views Europe as much more than a strong single market.

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