LONDON German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged Britain on Thursday to stay in the European Union, warning that Europe could become less stable if it leaves and that the bloc could also become less competitive.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has called an in-out referendum on the country's EU membership on June 23. Opinion polls suggest the result could be very close.
"If the UK would not be engaged (in) the European Union as a member, I think the UK would take the risk that continental Europe would be a little bit less stable, more volatile and that is not in Britain's interests," said Schaeuble, speaking in English.
Schaeuble, addressing a conference organised by the British Chambers of Commerce in London, said Britain made a big contribution to the EU with its expertise in security and foreign policy.
British finance minister George Osborne, speaking at the same event, said it would be a mistake for Britain to leave the EU at a time of geopolitical instability and risks posed by developments in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Cameron and Osborne back Britain's continued EU membership but their ruling Conservative Party is deeply divided on the issue and several cabinet ministers support a "Brexit".
Schaeuble said Britain was a force for improving the competitiveness of the bloc, adding that he did not want to lose an ally in the fight to reduce unnecessary rules and regulations.
Asked what he would do if Britain voted to leave the EU, Schaeuble joked: "We would cry."
(Reporting by William Schomberg and Marc Jones; Editing by Gareth Jones)