The world needs a united Europe, says Obama at G5
US president Barack Obama has delivered an impassioned defence of the European Union, warning that America and the world need a “united” Europe.
In comments which are likely be seen as a further plea for a Remain vote in Britain’s June 23 referendum, Mr Obama hailed the EU as “one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times” and cautioned individual states against rebuilding barriers which existed in the 20th century.
Mr Obama’s intervention, in a speech in Germany, came as Brexit’s biggest hitters sought to seize back the referendum initiative by putting immigration at the top of the agenda.
British Justice Secretary Michael Gove warned that the UK faces a migration “free-for-all” unless it breaks away from Brussels as the Leave camp moved to exploit an admission from the British government that EU rules on the free movement of labour made it harder to curb immigration.
The US president warned of the dangers of an “increasing intolerance” in politics, which promoted an “us versus them” mentality towards migrants.
Speaking at the start of the G5 summit in Hanover, where he will discuss security threats with David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, Mr Obama acknowledged that anxieties over globalisation, terrorism and immigration were “real and legitimate”.
“All these challenges have led some to question whether European integration can long endure, whether you might be better off separating off, redrawing some of the barriers and the walls between nations that existed in the 20th century,” said Mr Obama.
But he continued: “If a unified, peaceful, liberal, pluralistic, free-market Europe begins to doubt itself, begins to question the progress that has been made over the last several decades, then we can’t expect that the progress that is just now taking hold in many places around the world will continue.
“Instead, we will be empowering those who argue that democracy can’t work, that intolerance and tribalism and organising ourselves along ethnic lines and authoritarianism and restrictions on the press – that those are the things that the challenges of today demand.
“I’ve come here today, to the heart of Europe, to say that the United States and the entire world needs a strong and prosperous and united Europe.”
Mr Obama said he understood that dealing with Brussels could be “frustrating”. But he said the union had brought peace among its members and insisted that a strong, united Europe was vital for global security and prosperity.
He added: “European unity can require frustrating compromise. It adds layers of government that can slow decision-making. I understand. I have been in meetings with the European Commission.
“And as an American, we are famously disdainful of government. We understand how easy it must be to vent at Brussels and complain.
“But remember that every member of your union is a democracy. That’s not an accident. Remember that no EU country has raised arms against another. That’s not an accident.”