By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin will have to take on Britain's mantle as protector of the interests of Europe's smaller, northern liberal democracies after Brexit, Germany's Europe Minister said, forecasting that Britain's departure would rebalance the European Union.
In an interview with Reuters, Europe Minister Michael Roth said Germany would bear a greater responsibility for the wealthy countries to its north and west, which have traditionally lined up behind Britain in backing an economically liberal EU.
"After Brexit, the EU's balance will be realigned," he said on Monday. "For Denmark, Sweden or the Netherlands, Britain was a very important partner. These countries now have an interest in closer ties to Germany."
Britain is due to leave the bloc on Jan. 31, at which point it will no longer have a say in its workings. Traditionally, London has been seen as an advocate of an EU focused on economic cooperation, aligning it with northern neighbours who were wary of deepening political ties.
But he rejected suggestions that disagreements between Paris and Berlin over the EU's enlargement into the Balkans suggested that the 'Franco-German motor' that has traditionally been at the heart of European integration was now under strain.
Germany has been seen as the fulcrum around which more statist France and more liberal Britain revolved, but Britain's departure would not cause Paris and Berlin to grow apart.
"At the moment we're seeing that while there is broad agreement between Berlin and Paris in many areas, there are also areas where cooperation has snagged - regardless of Brexit," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron caused consternation last year when he vetoed the opening of talks on membership for Albania and North Macedonia, effectively rejecting the key planks of the two countries' foreign policies.
"I hope that we will see movement in this area soon," Roth said. "The EU's (executive) Commission will soon make a proposal on which hopefully all member states can agree."
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Giles Elgood)