German government MP warns of damage from Brexit

Jens Zimmermann says Germany would lose balancing force if Britain left EU

A campaign placard  at a ‘Vote Leave’ rally in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

A campaign placard at a ‘Vote Leave’ rally in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

 

Jens Zimmermann, a Social Democrat member of the Bundestag finance committee, told a Dublin audience that Germany would lose a balancing force in the EU in the event of a Brexit.

Saying strong economic relations between Ireland and Britain were obvious, he raised the notion of a “Frexit” or French EU exit and argued that such a move would be deeply damaging for Germany.

“France is by far the largest exporter and importer of Germany,” he said at a German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce event.

“If we would lose France from the EU that would be, from an economic perspective, a huge disaster for Germany. So one might compare that to the situation Ireland is in right now.”

While drawing a comparison between Britain’s complicated relationship with the EU and a complaining aunt at family events, he said it was still important to keep the family together. “I think always this is like having a birthday where all the family comes together and you have ‘that aunt’. But it’s family, it’s family.

“And sometimes I think that this characterises our relations on the Brussels level – on the European level – with the UK. It would really be a shame if we would lose that family member.”

The departure of Britain from the EU would deprive the union of a “strong voice” from across the English Channel, he said. “Also, it would be more difficult for us in Germany who are strong European voices because France and the southern states might become more powerful.”

Dr Zimmermann said the decision to be taken by British voters in June was one with implications for a century. “Brexit is not a decision for one decade.”

Britain would have to accept 95 per cent of EU regulations if it wanted to retain access to Europe’s single market from outside the union, he said separately in an interview with The Irish Times. “So, all the people in the UK who think we’ll leave the EU and we will never have to think about what they’re doing in Brussels, this is a mistake.”

There was concern at the political level in Berlin about the risk of a “Brexit by accident”, he said. “There might be a day-to-day issue like the Panama Papers, stuff like that, that in the end decides the outcome in the referendum.”