LONDON (Reuters) - Europe must unite to tackle the euro zone debt crisis or risk fragmentation, decline and irrelevance, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Sunday.
Barroso's solidarity call, in a commentary for The Observer newspaper, seemed particularly aimed at Britain, where the euro zone debt crisis has fueled an already strong eurosceptic strain.
"As we witness fundamental changes to the economic and geopolitical order, Europe needs to advance together or risk fragmentation," Barroso said.
"The dynamic of globalisation in financial and economic terms, but also in geopolitical terms, confronts Europeans with a stark choice: live together, share a common destiny and count in the world; or face the prospect of disunity and decline. In this defining moment, we either unite or face irrelevance," he said.
Barroso said he hoped that when historians looked back on these times "they will understand that we stepped back from the brink of fragmentation. I hope they will see how the UK fully engaged with fellow member states and institutional partners to ensure the stability of the European Union."
British Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly called on euro zone leaders to take urgent action to save the euro.
Britain, which has clung to its pound sterling, refuses to contribute to bailout funds for stressed euro zone countries, but at the same time fears the loss of influence that could come with being left behind in a two-speed Europe.
Cameron's attitude earned him a rebuke from an irritated French President Nicolas Sarkozy at an EU summit last month.
Cameron faced criticism at home this week from opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband who accused him of being dangerously complacent about the euro zone crisis and of choosing to lecture the euro zone from the sidelines instead of leading the search for answers.
Barroso said the crisis had shown that the euro area needed deeper integration of policies and governance. "This is the only way to secure the sustainability of the euro," he said.
"And it must come together with a strong focus on generating growth," he said.
He said the speed of the 27-nation EU bloc and the 17-nation euro area "can no longer be the speed of the slowest or most reluctant member," implying that Britain must allow other states to forge ahead with closer integration.
"Neither should Europe veer backwards to the 19th century type of politics, when peace and prosperity were supposed to be guaranteed through a precarious balance between a limited number of powers," Barroso said.
He said the euro area must not be treated as an "opt-out" from the EU. "The challenge is how to further deepen euro area integration without creating divisions with those member states that are not yet part of it," he said.
Deepening integration in the EU must involve deeper democracy, he said. He took issue with the view that Europe was being run by officials who were taking over from elected politicians, saying the European and national parliaments guaranteed democratic legitimacy.
A technocrat, Lucas Papademos, has become Greece's new prime minister, while in Italy, former European Commissioner Mario Monti, also viewed as a technocrat, is expected to be entrusted with trying to form a new administration.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Louise Ireland