Schaeuble Critiques EU as Self-Referential in Nod to U.K. Voters

  • EU institutions may be losing touch, German finance chief says
  • Says concerns of EU skeptics in U.K. aren’t all wrong

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said European Union officials may have become too overbearing and out-of-touch, signaling sympathy for British concern over an encroaching EU two days before the U.K.’s vote on leaving the bloc.

“The Britons who’ve expressed skepticism in the European Union have also to a certain extent expressed our concerns,” Schaeuble said in a speech in Berlin. “Perhaps we didn’t understand quite correctly, and it’s led to an excessive level of self-regard in the institutions and apparatuses in Brussels and Luxembourg. Perhaps we went too far and to some extent lost contact with our citizens.”

Schaeuble combined his critique of European integration with a renewed warning that the EU can’t return to business as usual even if Britons vote to stay in Thursday’s referendum. Addressing a conference sponsored by his and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, he said “we won’t simply be able to go on as before, otherwise people will say, ‘You haven’t understood.”’

While Schaeuble has a record of backing European unification since the fall of the Berlin Wall more than 25 years ago, he made it clear that further moves toward binding the EU closer together through treaties are on hold for now.

“In line with the British phrase ‘First things first,’ we should concentrate on the things that are really necessary and possible,” Schaeuble told the audience, which applauded his comment on an increasingly self-referential EU. That means looking for “flexible, pragmatic measures” while refusing to let “the slowest member of the procession determine its speed,” he said.

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