Schaeuble says UK's exit from the EU 'unimaginable'

Germany will do everything it can to keep Britain inside the EU, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Sunday after Britain's failed bid to stop the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker for the EU's top job nudged it closer to the exit door.

British Prime Minister David Cameron openly campaigned to stop Juncker getting the job of European Union Commission president, but last Friday lost the final vote by 26-2. He warned that choosing Juncker, an old-style EU federalist, would make it harder to keep Britain in the bloc. Cameron telephoned Juncker on Sunday to congratulate him on his appointment, Cameron's office said in a statement.

"They discussed how they would work together to make the EU more competitive and more flexible," the statement said. "(Cameron) welcomed Mr Juncker's commitment of finding a fair deal for Britain and Mr Juncker said that he was fully committed to finding solutions for the political concerns of the UK."

Speaking to the Financial Times newspaper, Schaeuble said the confrontation over Juncker was no obstacle to Britain's membership of the 28-country bloc and that Germany, the EU's largest economy, would do everything it could to stop Britain leaving the EU.

"The UK is an essential, indispensable component of the European unity," he said according to a transcript of the interview posted online on Sunday.

"The EU without the UK is absolutely not acceptable, unimaginable. Therefore we have to do everything, so that the interests and the positions of the UK find themselves sufficiently [represented] in European politics."

Schaeuble said Germany and other EU countries needed to listen to what Britain had to say, and that London and Berlin had lots of common ground on issues of economic reform and the need for some decision making to be carried out at a national level rather than by the EU.

His words echo those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has repeatedly said she wants Britain to stay in the EU.

The debate over Britain leaving the EU has come to the fore since Cameron's defeat over Juncker.

Many argue it diminishes his chance of winning reforms to the bloc which are domestically important to appease an increasingly eurosceptic British electorate.

If he is re-elected next year, Cameron has promised to hold an in-out referendum.

A poll on Sunday showed public support for Britain to leave the EU is growing again after falling to a multi-year low, according to the first survey published since EU leaders nominated Juncker last week.- Reuters
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