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German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble before the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch(reuters_tickers)
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany needs a strong, pro-European France to hold together the European project, veteran German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Wednesday, less than two weeks out from the first round of the French presidential election.
The comments from Schaeuble, 74, reflect the German government's aversion to far-right National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who wants to abandon the euro currency and is expected to go through to a run-off vote.
"We need a strong France ... we need a pro-European France," Schaeuble said during a round table discussion in Berlin. "We need France to hold together Europe."
"I hope Le Pen does not become French president," he added.
France votes in the first round of its presidential election in April 23, with the top two placed candidates going head-to-head on May 7. Earlier on Wednesday, an Ifop-Fiducial poll showed Le Pen leading narrowly in the first round, but likely to lose the run-off to centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Stressing Berlin's need for France to play a full role in the European Union, which was stunned by Britain's vote last June to leave the bloc, Schaeuble added: "Germany cannot lead Europe alone."
"That doesn't work, that is completely clear," he said. "We need France at least as much as France needs us."
Germany had a responsibility to lead in Europe due to its "geostrategic position", Schaeuble said, but added: "Some people expect too much of us ... politically, we are not as strong as France."
(Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Victoria Bryan and Richard Lough)