LONDON: German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Britain on Thursday (Friday in Manila) to stay in the European Union (EU) but played down David Cameron’s hopes that her visit to London would bring major reforms.
The British premier rolled out the red carpet in his bid to woo fellow conservative Merkel, who gave a speech to both houses of parliament before taking tea with the queen.
But Europe’s most powerful politician was cool on Cameron’s desire to change the EU’s treaties ahead of a planned referendum on British membership of the bloc in 2017.
Merkel said in her speech to parliament that Britain and Germany shared the goal of a “strong and competitive” EU that was a “model for other regions of the world.”
“In order to maintain this goal we need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside the European Union,” she said in English, after delivering most of the address in German.
However, she admitted Cameron might be disappointed by her speech to members of the House of Commons and House of the Lords, the first by a German leader since President Richard von Weizsaecker’s address in 1986.
“I have heard some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of European architecture which will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment,” she said.
Merkel appeared to open the door to reform a little wider in a press conference after she and Cameron held a lunch meeting at the prime minister’s Downing Street residence.
Cameron said they discussed ways of cutting “excessive interference and meddling” by Brussels and of protecting member states like Britain that do not use the euro.
“Angela and I both want to see change in Europe and we both believe change is possible,” he said.
Merkel offered some support for his concerns over EU migrants claiming social benefits, saying that if new arrivals got as much as long-term citizens there would be an “onslaught.”
She added that while achieving consensus on reforms was “not a piece of cake,” she was confident it could be done.
“If one wants Britain to remain in the European Union which is what I want, if one at the same time wants a competitive union that generates growth, one can find common solutions,” she said.
She then headed off to have tea at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II.