Schaeuble Enters `Brexit' Debate With Show of German Emotion

  • `We would cry' if U.K. voted to leave in June referendum
  • Single market membership makes `huge difference' to Britain

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wore his European heart on his sleeve during a visit to London, where he used an appearance at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference to urge the U.K. to stay in the European Union.

Not only is the EU more competitive with Britain as a member, but the German government sees it as a better outcome, Schaeuble told the audience during a question and answer session on Thursday. It’s “not a good idea” for Britain to leave the 28-nation bloc and, in any case, Germany would be happy if the U.K. decides to stay.

Asked what Germany would do if the U.K. voted to quit the EU in the June 23 referendum, Schaeuble said: “Phhh, we would cry,” breaking into a laugh and drawing applause from the audience. “But I hope we will not. Look, it’s a decision of the British people, of course.”

Schaeuble, 73, who helped negotiate German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall and served in the cabinet of Chancellor Helmut Kohl when the euro was devised, was making a rare intervention into a U.K. political issue that threatens to impact all Europe.

Osborne Ally

Appearing alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, a key advocate of maintaining Britain’s EU membership, Schaeuble issued a warning on the trading prospects of a U.K. outside the 28-nation bloc.

“Of course I think trade would go on,” he told the audience. “But it makes a huge difference whether you are part of a single market or not.”

Schaeuble also stressed the geopolitical risk buffeting Europe, suggesting that a so-called Brexit would further burden a continent suffering economic uncertainty, a refugee crisis and Islamist extremism.

"I think in British history the U.K. has always been interested in a strong, stable Europe,” he said. “Without the U.K. it will be much more fragile. For a stable continental Europe I think British involvement, British engagement is very helpful.”

At the same time, he warned to rein in expectations for a reduction of EU bureaucracy, one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s stated goals.

“I think we can deliver some reduction,” he said. “I’m a little bit careful in promising too much.”

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