German President Joachim Gauck said that Europeans don’t need to fear German domination and that no one in his country is imposing a “diktat” on the rest of the continent of 500 million.
Gauck, whose role is largely ceremonial, used a rare televised speech in Berlin today to acknowledge that Germany has “created much fear” since its 1990 reunification to become Europe’s biggest economy and during the debt crisis in the 17-nation euro area.
German society “has shown itself to be rational and mature” by avoiding any populist anti-European groundswell, he said. “In Germany, more Europe doesn’t mean a German Europe. To us, more Europe means a European Germany.”
Gauck’s decision to choose Europe as the theme of his first major foray into the political sphere since his election by a special assembly in March last year underscores the dilemma felt by German officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel over the country’s role as Europe’s chief decision-maker and principal contributor to euro-area rescues.
Protesters in Greece and other countries in Europe battered by the crisis have compared Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to Nazis attempting to achieve through an insistence on austerity what Adolf Hitler failed to do during World War II.
Gauck defended Merkel against vilification in euro-area countries where she is blamed for austerity-led policies.
“I was shocked to see how quickly perceptions became distorted, as if today’s Germany stood in the tradition of German imperialism, even of German crimes,” Gauck said. “I don’t see any one among German policy makers who is seeking a German diktat.”
Gauck acknowledged public “frustration” across the European Union, including concern at what is seen as German-French domination of the bloc and the proliferation of “Brussels technocrats.” The crisis in the euro area has brought Europe to a crossroads, raising questions that go beyond the economy to encompass the future direction of the continent, he said.
There is a need to spell out “what does more Europe mean, what Europe should look like,” Gauck said. “What are its boundaries?” and “how can we win back trust” lost during the debt crisis in the 17 euro nations, he said.
He appealed to policy makers to press ahead with closer financial and economic cooperation, since without moves toward deeper integration “a common currency can survive only with difficulty.” European official must go further and work for a common foreign, security and defense policy, on the environment and social policy such as migration and demography.
While questions must be asked to help Europe advance, the continent’s existence as a bloc has not been thrown into doubt by the crisis that began in Greece, Gauck said. The bloody wars that nearly destroyed Europe cannot be allowed to repeat themselves, he said.
“Even if individual rescue measures were to fail, the overall European project isn’t at risk,” he said.