Newsmaker - Queen Elizabeth II
Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30
For a woman with no political or economic powers to wield, Britain's queen may appear, at first sight, an odd example of a power broker on the world stage.
But the respected, long-serving monarch could be the UK's secret weapon in maintaining its status quo both at home and abroad.
As the Eurozone teetered on the brink of break-up last week, and with her prime minister in Brussels for crunch talks, the monarch warned that division in Europe was "dangerous".
And the pointed message was made in the heart of Berlin - a city which only 70 years ago was in ruins after war with her country.
In a speech at a state banquet, attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, the queen emphasised Britain's "key part" in shaping the continent. She also lauded Britain's "irreversible" friendship with Germany since the war. Her comments have been interpreted as a plea for Britain to remain a member of the EU, with a referendum due on the issue in the UK before the end of 2017.
After the queen's intervention, Joachim Gauck, the German president, urged Mr Cameron to do everything he could to secure a 'Yes' vote in the in-out referendum, saying that "the European Union needs Britain".
The queen is officially politically neutral, and Buckingham Palace insisted her speech was about Europe as a continent, not a political entity. However, the carefully-worded statement came amid a time of turbulence at the heart of the EU.
At the banquet at the Bellevue Palace, the official residence of Mr Gauck, Britain's head of state said: "The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent. Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe.
"In our lives, we have seen the worst but also the best of our continent. We have witnessed how quickly things can change for the better. But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the post-war world.
"We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west as well as in the east of our continent. That remains a common endeavour."
Turning to Britain's friendship with the most powerful member of the EU, she said that, since the war, the UK "has determined to number among Germany's very strongest friends in Europe. Britain and Germany have achieved so much by working together. I have every confidence that we will continue to do so in the years ahead".
A royal source played down the political side of the speech, saying: "The queen undertakes these state visits on the advice of the government and activity on state visits is undertaken on the advice of government, and speeches are included in that.
"She is talking about Europe as a group of nations which she has seen at its worst and its best and she is encouraging the things that speak to the best of what she has seen." It's not the first time that the monarch has made passing reference to political and constitutional issues. The comments appeared to echo a similar intervention made in the run-up to the Scottish referendum, when she urged Scots to "think very carefully about the future".
The trip to Germany has been warmly welcomed by the country's president and the speech was also well received.
Mr Gauck responded to it by saying: "You have witnessed the advance of European integration. A quarter of a century after the division of our continent ended, the European Union is facing major challenges.
"We know that we need an effective European Union based on a stable foundation of shared values. A constructive dialogue on the reforms Britain wants to see is, therefore, essential.
"As a good partner, Germany will support this dialogue. For Britain is part of Europe. The European Union needs Britain. A united Europe, a strong European Union, represents stability, peace and freedom - for us all." (Additional reporting, Daily Telegraph, London)