Opinion: Gauck champions European project | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.02.2013
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Opinion: Gauck champions European project

In a speech in Berlin, German President Joachim Gauck stressed the importance of European values and tried to quell fears of German domination. DW's Marcel Fürstenau was impressed by the address.

"There has never been more Europe," German President Joachim Gauck said at the beginning of an passionate speech that has already been described in several German media outlets as his first big address to the nation. It's a highly questionable description since that would mean that Joachim Gauck has only ever given small speeches in his 11 months as German president. But that's not the case - neither formally nor in substance. Gauck addressed weighty topics in the past. Just think of his sensitive, warning words in summer last year on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of race riots in the city of Rostock.

Marcel Fürstenau Copyright: DW

Fürstenau is a reporter at DW's Berlin office

On several occasions, the German head of state has also addressed his favorite topic of freedom, which has consumed his life as an activist pastor. And now Gauck, the East German civil rights activist, has chosen Europe as his theme. For someone like him, it's a term with positive connotations with the ring of a promise made during the days of the Cold War.

At the time, Gauck lived in the communist former East Germany. But at the same time, Gauck is smart enough to not play down the current euro and debt crisis despite his personal positive experience of the end of German and European divisions.

He's warned against ignoring widespread public frustration and discontent across the European Union.

In the spirit of Rathenau and Churchill

And what does Gauck offer his skeptics or even opponents? Not a solution to every problem, of course. Instead, the German president has done what Walther Rathenau did before the First World War and Winston Churchill after the Second - he passionately defended and championed the overall idea of the European project. What was noteworthy was Gauck's urgent request to the British not to turn their backs on Europe. Hardly any foreign head of state has more charmingly reminded the United Kingdom of its responsibility for the success of Europe.

Gauck, however, avoided making concrete proposals for how the European Union could become more transparent and democratic as a whole. That's a shame because a German president with his record could find people willing to listen to his clear demands even outside Germany.

For someone like Gauck who speaks so often of freedom and responsibility, and justifiably so, he could easily have called for more rights for the European Parliament. His restraint in such a key question doesn't match his appeal to demonstrate more courage.

Still, you believe the German president when he says he feels like a European German and not like a German European. Gauck underlines the commonalities, not the divisions. And that's not a given in the current combative climate in Europe.