Hague warns Germany over drive for greater European integration


BRITISH FOREIGN secretary William Hague warned Germany yesterday that its European integrationist zeal risked alienating others in the bloc.

Mr Hague said that even well-intentioned efforts to promote a multispeed Europe could go wrong, telling a Berlin audience that “sometimes less is more”.

“Public disillusionment with the EU in our country is the deepest it has ever been,” said Mr Hague. “People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them. They feel it is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level.”

Mr Hague said that unless a greater transfer of powers back to national parliaments took place to balance centralising forces, the EU would become “democratically unstable”.

“These points may be felt most acutely in Britain but they’re not felt only in Britain,” he said in a speech to a Berlin foreign policy conference. He added that he saw the EU’s future not in greater “centralisation and uniformity but of flexibility and variable geometry” with differing degrees of integration with no disadvantage to those who stay outside.

Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb urged Mr Hague to reverse the decision to keep Britain out of the EU banking union and not to “sit on the fence”. He warned Germany, meanwhile, not to push its ambitions for EU reform via treaty change.

“At this juncture treaty change is like opening Pandora’s box, putting too much strain on the union,” he said. “Treaty change at this juncture risks dividing the EU further.” German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin’s push for closer fiscal union, which Britain has not joined, and greater budgetary oversight – by treaty change if need be – was motivated by a desire to use the crisis to stabilise the EU. “In the interests of their own credibility, European institutions have to keep a sense of proportion,” he said. “So too member states have to live up to their responsibility and not shift to Brussels what would be better sorted out at home.”

Meanwhile, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said he was “not sure the peak of the crisis has passed”. He reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the euro and to keeping Greece in the currency bloc. The knowledge that “we are all sinners” should encourage enough mutual generosity, he said, “to agree on sensible politics, including on Greece”.