Europe must not become a museum, warns Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe risks becoming a museum continent visited by tourists to admire past glories such as Renaissance architecture if it fails to keep up with other fast-growing nations.
Mrs Merkel, who is campaigning for a third term as German chancellor in elections on September 22, said that countries could only be "strong" if they modernise and stay innovative.
Speaking at a televised forum in which voters asked her questions directly, she warned that Europeans were so accustomed to leading the world that they failed to see how other countries were catching up.
She said: "I don't want us to be a continent in the end [that] one travels to and says 'let's see what these Renaissance buildings look like, let's look at where the first car was built', and everything that's modern, that's innovative, that's great and advances mankind happens elsewhere."
She told the audience in Mönchengladbach that European countries needed to be "strict with each other" about reform rather than pooling debts.
"This is my approach and you can say that I'm doing all these things because I'm really a European at heart," she said.
In line with German public opinion, Mrs Merkel's party rejects the idea of pooling European debts. The opposition Social Democrats have proposed setting up a debt redemption fund which would guarantee debt jointly – though each country would continue servicing its own debts.
The need for greater competitiveness in Europe is an abiding theme for the Mrs Merkel.
At her speech in Davos this year she called for a Europe-wide "compact for competitiveness" in which countries would pledge to make improvements in areas where they were lagging behind, such as improving their transport networks or spending more on research.
On the campaign trail, she has cited the collapse of Communist East Germany as a warning to Europe of what happens if a country fails to stay competitive.
Speaking at the televised forum on Monday, she said that German solidarity with nations like Greece must be accompanied by Greek reforms.
Mrs Merkel's tough line on the eurozone crisis has made her a target of public anger in countries including Greece and Cyprus, where she has been depicted in Nazi-style uniforms.
Asked about this caricature during Monday's forum, she said that freedom of speech was a good thing, even when the criticism was factually inaccurate.
"You must have a big heart," Mrs Merkel said.
One uncomfortable moment during the TV forum came when she was asked about adoption rights for same-sex couples, a divisive issue within her socially conservative Christian Democrat party.
She replied: "I have problems with full equality (over adoption)." Asked for her reasons, the chancellor said: "It has to do with the child's welfare.
"I'm not sure how it affects the child's welfare." ( © Daily Telegraph London)