German FM: Euro crisis will define image of Europe

Europe's handling of the financial crisis will determine the way other regions of the world and its own citizens view the continent, affecting foreign investment and prospects for closer political union, Germany's foreign minister said Monday.

Speaking at an annual gathering of German ambassadors and foreign diplomats in Berlin, Guido Westerwelle said the debate over how to resolve the eurozone's woes was causing a "crisis of faith" in the 27-nation European Union that could lead to it becoming sidelined by newly emerging powers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"The image of Europe as a functioning political union is now on probation in the eyes of the citizens of our countries," Westerwelle said, adding that Germany, too, has a reputation to lose as a steadfast supporter of European integration.

His remarks came after some lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition expressed skepticism over the weekend at Greece's ability to stay in the eurozone.

Westerwelle cautioned against resurgent nationalism almost 70 years after the end of World War II, echoing Merkel's call for all comments on Greece and other eurozone members to be carefully weighed. Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras last week complained that what he called a "cacophony" of criticism was harming his country.

"It's important that in all of our debates...we meet each other with respect," said Westerwelle. "This is particularly true for the most economically powerful country in Europe, Germany."

He suggested that the idea of a European constitution, in which countries cede more powers to EU institutions, should be revived.

The last attempt to introduce such a constitution collapsed in 2005 when it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands.

"It's a project that we shouldn't abandon," said Westerwelle. "I would also be in favor, if there were to be a European constitution one day, that it should also be put before the people in a referendum."