Reuters International

Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen attends a cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Britain must stay in the EU to temper Germany's "excessive enthusiasm" on European matters, France's "great pathos" and Italy's "art of improvisation", German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

Praising Britons "scepticism", "understatement" and "grandiose pragmatism", she echoed other senior German politicians who have become more vocal in recent weeks about wanting Britain to stay in the 28-member bloc.

"If Britons were to leave the EU, this heads-in-the-clouds mentality would dominate," she told weekly Die Zeit.

Britons vote on June 23 and opinion polls over the past few days have shown support tipping towards leaving, a step that could rock the EU as well as the unity of the United Kingdom.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it would be better for Britain to wield power from within the bloc than outside.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned last week Britain would not be able to continue to benefit from the European single market like Norway or Switzerland if it quit.

Von der Leyen also told Die Zeit she rejected criticism from EU sceptics that ever-deeper integration was an end in itself.

"But whoever wants to take advantage of a political alliance, a common market with 500 million people must be prepared to pay the price for that and combine a part of their own sovereignty in a joint project," she said.

Also on Wednesday, Germany's economic institute DIW said Brexit was likely to knock half a percentage point off growth.

On security, von der Leyen said she expected Europe's influence to drop if Britain were to leave, because there would only be one vote for Europe on the U.N. security council.

"Great Britain would no longer be raising its hand in the U.N. Security Council for 500 million Europeans but just for 64 million Britons," she said.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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