STRASBOURG -- Germany's most prominent Eurosceptic has said it would be "dangerous" for the UK to leave the European Union, calling on Britain to stay to defend the EU from further federalism.
And in an exclusive interview with the Huffington Post UK, Bernd Lucke, the leader of Germany's Alternative Für Deutschland, predicted that the Euro would not exist in 50 years time, but said it would take another banking crisis or a war to make it happen.
Lucke, whose party won seven seats in the European parliament in May, claimed that the UK and Germany needed to stand together to make sure the EU made no further encroachments on national policies. His party is virulently anti-Euro, but does not, as yet, advocate leaving the European Union.
Bernd Lucke, head of the AfD (Alternative for Germany)
Instead, Lucke said he would prefer to see the EU's powers rowed back, and said Britain was the best partner to help do this.
"It's really dangerous," he said of David Cameron's proposed 2017 referendum. "I don't really expect that they will leave the European Union, but if there was a sudden mood of EU hostility then I would regret this very much, because the Brits are certainly supporting ideas similar to ours.
"They do not want [to give] too much power to Brussels. They are against a federalist approach to Europe, to making it a state of its own. They are very strongly market-economy orientated: These are positions that we need in the European Union that are important for Germany to defend its own ideas from some ideas that come out of the southern European countries.
"I think it would be really tragic if Great Britain left."
The German politician said that he would prefer that Cameron's emphasis on renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU concentrated on economic rather than migration issues.
"Freedom of movement of capital and labour is a great achievement of the European Union and I would not support any efforts to limit that," he said. "I don't think that will happen."
Bernd Lucke: A man in a hurry
Lucke added: "There are many, many issues that make you wonder why the European Union assumes these types of competencies."
The AfD has pointedly distanced itself from parties such as Ukip, and is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, which includes the Conservative party. That alliance has been uneasy for some Conservatives in Brussels, who seem themselves more naturally aligned to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. But more Eurosceptic Tories, like MEP Daniel Hannan, have been keen on further co-operation.
Mainstream German parties have accused AfD of pandering to populist right-wing nationalism, though the party has actively distanced itself from the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany.
Lucke, a charismatic and media-friendly politician whose party supporters have been subject to several accusations of racism, is naturally often compared to Nigel Farage, but he is keen to distinguish himself. Indeed, he says he barely knows the Ukip leader.
"I don't know him very well but I’ve listened to him in Parliament, he's outspoken, he's a good rhetorician, he speaks very well. I don't agree with him on a lot of points, but sometimes he has a point in what he's saying," Lucke says.
"We do not want to leave the European Union, this distinguishes us from Ukip."
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Lucke said he did not think the comparison with other Eurosceptic parties was "useful" and said he wanted to distance himself from them, not specifically because of their attitudes to foreigners, but because of their "weird" economic ideas. "France's Front National talks about destroying the common market and reinstating customs duties. This is not helpful."
But he has some similarity to Ukip in that the party does not like to be "labelled as left or right".
"We have a number of positions, conservative in terms of, say, family and interior security," he said. "We have some ideas from the left like direct democracy, like debt forgiveness for overly indebted countries, a really strict line vis-a-vis banks."
Lucke said he believed the role of his party was not necessarily to hold the balance of power, as Farage intends for Ukip in the UK parliament, but to press on the specific issue of the Euro.
"The Euro is a failed construction, it has led to certainly the severest crisis in the European Union, it dampens the competitiveness of some of countries very severely and gives rise to unemployment and stagnant tax revenues," he said, but conceded "the political mood is such that most governments want to preserve the Euro so they will do that at whatever cost they think is reasonable."
He predicted "in 50 years the Euro does not exist" but said it would like come as a result of a "shock, like a debt crisis in South America or a huge banking crisis, or perhaps a war in eastern Europe".
"I don't wish that such a crisis occurs but it may happen," he said. "There have been shocks in economic history and they will happen over again, the question is whether the Eurozone is able to withstand a really sharp shock. You can, of course, save the Euro over and over again, and cost us lots of wealth."