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With U.K. Leaving, EU Must Contain Contagious Effect, Rottgen Says


Europe is still reeling from the United Kingdom's vote last week to leave the European Union. And leaders from across the continent are thinking about the ramifications.


Many of them will be meeting this week and Britain's vote will be at the top of the agenda. French President Francois Hollande had this to say over the weekend - here he is through a translator.


FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) I very much regretted the vote of the United Kingdom, but I respect it. It is a matter of democracy. At the same time, we have to bring about all the consequences and conclusions.

WERTHEIMER: Britain's rejection of the EU is a harsh blow to Germany in particular. Germany is straining to hold together a union stressed by migrant crises and populist political movements. Now Chancellor Angela Merkel admits those strains are growing.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) Increasingly, we are confronted that people have fundamental doubts about the direction of European integration. The doubt is not just in Great Britain but in all other member states.

WERTHEIMER: Today, we'll hear a few different voices on the Brexit vote. We'll start in Germany. Norbert Rottgen heads the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: It is perceived as the biggest catastrophe in the history of European integration.

WERTHEIMER: Rottgen spoke to us about the challenges now facing Germany and the EU.

ROTTGEN: A big, strong country deciding to leave the European Union creates certain weakness. Europe is facing fundamental, tough challenges as never before from Russia, from the Middle East - Syria, Libya. So we need a strong and cohesive Europe. And what the Brits have decided is the opposite of that.

WERTHEIMER: Will you - will the Union have to punish Britain to make it clear that there will be a cost to them for bailing out on the Union?

ROTTGEN: I would say there is neither a legitimacy nor a need to punish. Now we have, of course, to make sure, in continental Europe, that we will contain a contagious effect and that we give proof to the determination of European politicians and governments that we are able to give European answers to European challenges, as mentioned before.

WERTHEIMER: How do you do that?

ROTTGEN: It starts that we learn the lesson from the British debate that we must not leave the public debate to the anti-Europeans. So for the first time in European integration history, we have to see that we have to fight for Europe.

WERTHEIMER: Well, how do you do that?

ROTTGEN: By making the case for Europe. We live in the world of globalization. And there is no single European nation state which is able to really influence global development. So if you want to be and remain secure, we need European cooperation.

WERTHEIMER: I take your point that you feel that success in Europe would have the effect of keeping the Union together. But I want to return to the point of what you do about a major defection like Britain.

ROTTGEN: Unfortunately, it has already become very clear that there is a high cost. There are, of course, economic costs. There is huge uncertainty. Great Britain is going to lose its triple-A rating. We will see insecurity also with regard to investment in Britain. So I think there will be, unfortunately, in the very short term, very visible economic and political cost of isolationism.

WERTHEIMER: This puts tremendous pressure on your chancellor. Chancellor Merkel has lost a powerful ally here. I mean, I assume that Germany will miss Britain as much as anyone.

ROTTGEN: Yes, you're right. We will miss Great Britain very, very much. And this will make the position for Germany harder. But our overarching goal remains, and this is to contribute to European unity. There is no other European country that is able to deliver on this goal - unity, cohesion - as it is possible in our days and necessary to be done by Germany.

WERTHEIMER: Angela Merkel has been, perhaps, the most visible figure in all of Europe, talking about European unity and where it goes from here. I would think this is a terrible loss for her.

ROTTGEN: It's a loss, yeah. But now it has happened, and we have to make the best of that. And to make the best of that means that we have to speak up, what is the European necessity today, and that we do not leave Europe, its ability to adequately respond and to come to action to those who want to destroy Europe. This is the very fundamental lesson we can learn from what has happened in Britain now.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Rottgen, thank you so much for talking to us this morning.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much.

WERTHEIMER: Norbert Rottgen, he is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Germany's Bundestag. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.