Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb.jpg
Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb
Photograph: Hina / Denis CERIĆ/ ua

Eurozone finance ministers expressed concern Thursday about a possible British decision to leave the European Union, with one of them comparing it to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank.

The ministers' Eurogroup panel was meeting in Luxembourg a week before Britain holds a referendum on its future membership of the EU. Recent opinion polls have put supporters of a Brexit - or a departure from the bloc - in the lead.

"It would be the Lehman Brothers moment of Europe," said Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb. "It will have ramifications, not only on the City [of London], not only on the UK, not only on Europe but I think for the rest of the world as well."

The 2008 bankruptcy of the US investment bank led to fears of a total collapse of the global financial system, as economies around the world entered recession in the following months.

However, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said that Britain would be far worse affected by Brexit than anyone else.

"The departure of Britain from the EU would be ... a difficulty for Europe, for us, but first and foremost a tragedy for Britain," he said.

"Of course we are concerned," the head of the Eurogroup panel, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, told journalists. "We are following it closely and considering possible scenarios."

He said there were no plans for policy change in case of a Brexit, but later said that the ministers had discussed more broadly how to deal "with the growing concern in our electorates of the effects of the European project."

It is "unquestionable" that the eurozone project will be taken forward, Dijsselbloem said, adding that ministers had shown great commitment to strengthening fiscal policies and banking rules - independent of the threat of Brexit.

"We will deepen our cooperation, make it stronger and more effective to deliver what people want from us, which is basically security, in economic terms or otherwise," he added.

During the ministers' talks, news broke about the killing of British lawmaker Jo Cox. They honoured her with a moment of silence.

"The UK is a beacon for peaceful politics and we hope that the British public, the people of the UK can make their democratic choices serenely and in a safe way next week," Dijsselbloem said.

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