- Dutch prime minister speaks in interview on visit to Tokyo
- Rutte urges Cameron to stay in EU, for Britain and for Europe
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned the U.K. against voting to leave the European Union, saying that life outside the world’s biggest trading bloc would harm Britain’s status as a global financial center and prove to be economically damaging.
Speaking in an interview at the Dutch ambassador’s residence in Tokyo on Monday, Rutte said that an exit from the EU would mean the U.K. becoming “a mid-sized economy in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in neither America nor Europe.”
“It would no doubt take away a lot of economic potential, and be a killer for the London financial center,” he said.
Rutte’s comments are a reminder to Prime Minister David Cameron that the U.K.’s European partners are increasingly concerned at the outcome of the referendum the British government has said it will hold by the end of 2017. Rutte, whose country takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of next year, said it was in the best interests of the U.K., and the union as a whole, for Britain to stay in the 28-nation bloc.
Cameron is “focused on his approach to what he thinks is in the best interests of Britain,” his spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London when asked about the comments. “He has been very clear that it is a matter of judgment, and people need to weigh up these issues very carefully. Britain could survive outside the EU. The question is whether it would be more successful or not.”
Rutte also said that internal EU disagreement over how to respond to the refugee crisis could “tear away the very fabric of European cooperation.”
He complained that eastern European nations such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are not taking in refugees to the same extent as countries in western Europe, and said that it should be up to the EU, not the refugees, where they can seek asylum.
“We need not to just kill the boat-smuggling business model, we also need to get rid of this asylum shopping in the European Union,” said Rutte, 48. “It shouldn’t be the asylum seekers wondering which country they want go to, it should be Europe telling them where to be, be it Lithuania, Sweden, or wherever.”
Rutte’s comments come as leaders prepare for an EU summit on migration in Malta on Nov. 12. The focus of the meeting will be cooperation with Turkey on stemming the flow of refugees, the setting-up of processing centers in Greece and Italy, and the reinforcement of border management. The EU has said the number of people seeking asylum in the bloc may rise to 3 million through 2017.
Germany, the EU’s most populous nation and its biggest economy, has clashed with eastern European countries over how to tackle the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to grant asylum to genuine refugees, Hungary has closed its borders with Serbia and fellow EU member Croatia. That has created bottlenecks on borders and inflamed tensions between former Yugoslav partners.
Rutte is visiting Japan with about 100 business leaders and will hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday. The two premiers are likely to discuss economic ties between the nations, a trade deal between Japan and the EU, and security cooperation.
A free-trade agreement between Japan and the EU would account for more than a quarter of the global economy. Negotiators had initially agree to wrap up talks by the end of this year. While that goal appears ambitious now, Japan has signed a broad agreement on an Asia-Pacific trade dealthat may give impetus to negotiations with Europe.
“The situation is relatively positive in terms of closing a deal as soon as possible,” Rutte said.
Ties between the Netherlands and Japan are long-standing, with the former one of only two nations -- the other being China -- permitted to trade and have contact with Japan during its two centuries of seclusion from the outside world through the mid-19th century. The Netherlands was Japan’s second-largest EU trading partner last year.