Merkel on Brexit

Don't Be Under Any Illusions

Lower house of parliament Bundestag session in Berlin
Merkel to Britain: Don't expect any preferred treatment. Source: Reuters

In an address on Thursday to parliament ahead of the weekend’s EU summit on Brexit, German leader Angela Merkel fired off some warning shots across the English Channel.

In firm language, the chancellor told members of Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, that the United Kingdom should not expect to keep the same rights and privileges it now has as a member of the EU once it leaves the bloc.

“A third-party state, which Britain will be, cannot enjoy the same advantages or even be better positioned, than an EU member state,” Ms. Merkel said. “I have the impression that some people in Britain still have illusions about this. That would be wasted time.”

The chancellor also stressed that Britain’s financial obligations to the EU would have to be discussed from the beginning of the talks. This statement runs contrary to Britain’s demands for financial issues to be negotiated at the same time as negotiations on a new relationship. The order – first the divorce, then talks about the future – was “not reversible,” she said.

“Our goal is to get the best deal for Europe and its citizens.”

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

“We can only reach an agreement on our future relationship with Britain when all questions about its exit have been cleared up satisfactorily,” said Europe’s most influential leader, adding that those talks could only start in earnest after Britain’s June 8 parliamentary election. She urged British negotiators to engage in a “constructive dialog.”

The Brexit negotiations “will no doubt put strain on Britain and Europe,” the chancellor said. Money is a particularly contentious issue. The two sides are miles apart on the UK’s financial obligations to the bloc, which include open bills and pension deals. The EU is discussing a number around €60 billion, while the UK suggests sums far lower at €20 billion.

Ms. Merkel stressed that the EU would conduct talks “in a fair and constructive way” and expected the “exact same from the British side.” But the chancellor made one point particularly clear in her toughest stance on Brexit so far: “Our goal is to get the best deal for Europe and its citizens.”

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany’s position on Brexit is critical to both the EU and the UK as negotiators on both sides prepare for Brexit talks. Some Brits have voiced concern that Germany, with it deep trade relations with Britain, could wave a heavy hand in the talks. But Ms. Merkel made it clear that EU unity is the top priority.

Reaching out to Britain, Ms. Merkel said the EU and post-Brexit Britain shared interests in businesses being able to sell their products to each other and fighting terrorism and organized crime. “We would like to have close, good relationships with Britain based on trust,” she said. “We would like to see a prosperous UK.”

The chancellor, who is seeking her fourth term on September 24, has the support of both blocs in her governing right-left coalition on how the Brexit negotiations should be conducted. On Thursday, German lawmakers are expected to approve a resolution that establishes broad conditions for EU talks with the UK and for future access to the single market. It also specifies that a final deal requires Bundestag approval.

 

John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: blau@handelsblatt.com

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