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EU Eager To Avoid A Domino Effect From Other Euroskeptic States


European leaders are still trying to figure out just what a Brexit will mean and how it will happen, technically speaking. Some leaders are saying the U.K. should move quickly now that it's decided to leave the EU. We asked Germany's ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig why that is important.

PETER WITTIG: We realize that the British, the government and the people need some space and time to digest the aftershocks of that referendum. But at some point in time - and I think rather sooner than later - the European Union needs clarity by the British government to give effect to this decision. What we don't want is to enter into a protracted stalemate of uncertainty. And that would be bad for the economy - above all, for the U.K. economy - but also for political stability.

WERTHEIMER: Is Germany concerned that other countries are going to follow Britain out?

WITTIG: Well, we hear voices, mostly from right-wing populist movements or parties in Europe, that now call for referenda in other countries. But no other government, so far, has conveyed the message that they want to emulate the British referendum. I think, to the country, this is a wake-up call for Europe. And the 27 will want to strengthen the European Union. They, at the same time, want to listen and see the writing on the wall. There's popular discontent in many countries with the European Union.

Sometimes, it - the European Union is the scapegoat for what goes wrong in the countries. But there are serious concerns, and we need to address them. The European Union should be a union for the citizens and not a union for bureaucrats.

WERTHEIMER: The leader of the British Leave campaign, Nigel Farage - he said that the EU is dying. Is that having an effect...

WITTIG: He's wrong.

WERTHEIMER: ...On the members, do you think?

WITTIG: He's flat wrong. The European Union is not dying. It is a situation where the European Union will reform itself. It will want to deliver better on the expectations of the citizens. It will focus on the essential tasks and challenges. It will be more coherent to fight terrorism, to cope with immigration and the refugee crisis, to strengthen internal/external security, and to make Europe a competitive factor on the economic world stage. So those are the challenges. And I expect the European Union to be more coherent on those issues.

WERTHEIMER: Well, just to look at it from another direction, when you think about the community without Britain, I wonder what Germany, in particular, valued about having Britain there.

WITTIG: Well, we are losing not only a member state, we are losing a whole set of key assets that Britain brought to the table - a liberal, open-minded country, a sense of pragmatism and common sense, also a liberal way of doing business economically. So this is apart from being the second-largest economy in the European Union. This is not a small chunk of Europe that we are losing. But it's not the end of the relationship with the U.K. We are striving for a close and trustful community and a relationship with the U.K., even outside the European Union. And my country will work hard for that to happen.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for coming in.

WITTIG: It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you. Peter Wittig is Germany's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.