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Merkel praises her hosts, argues for strong European Union as London rolls out the red carpet

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel wooed a welcoming but skeptical audience of British lawmakers Thursday with a call for a strong, unified Europe with Britain at its heart.

Merkel addressed Britain's Parliament during a visit full of ceremonial honour and political purpose. Prime Minister David Cameron sees Merkel as a potential ally in reshaping the European Union, and laid on lunch at the prime minister's Downing St. residence and tea with Queen Elizabeth II on top of the speech to lawmakers.

The pomp stands in contrast to a recent visit by France's socialist President Francois Hollande, who was treated to a press conference in an aircraft hangar and lunch in a pub.

Cameron, under pressure from Euroskeptics inside and outside his Conservative Party, has promised a referendum on leaving the EU if he wins the next election. He hopes to renegotiate Britain's membership to persuade voters to stick with the 28-nation bloc — but so far has few European allies for the project.

Merkel, who shares some of Cameron's centre-right views, said the eurozone economic crisis had driven home the need for a tighter rein on the bloc's finances, and she backed the idea of closer economic co-ordination and less bureaucracy.

"We must always bear in mind that the world is not waiting for Europe — economic strength and competitiveness must constantly be strengthened and renewed," she said.

She also stressed the importance of freedom of trade and movement and "a Europe without borders."

Merkel said she was "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea" of Britain's Euroskeptic and pro-European forces, and predicted her speech would disappoint both sides.

She was an enthusiastic guest at Parliament, warmly praising Britain for its fight against Nazism during World War II and speaking for long stretches in English.

"We need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside the European Union," she said.

___

Associated Press Writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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