How will the United Kingdom withdraw from the EU? Even eight days before the formal date of withdrawal, we still have no answer, said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a government statement to the German Bundestag.
One day earlier, British Prime Minister Theresa May had requested an extension until 30 June 2019. The heads of state and government now have to consider the request when they meet in Brussels. "In principle we can agree to this request, provided the British parliament approves the withdrawal agreement within the next week," said Angela Merkel.
With respect to the date, however, it must be noted that European elections would be held at the end of May. "That means we must take into account the future and ensure that the European elections are lawful and legitimate. But, we can surely respond positively to a request for a short extension." If, however, there is no positive vote in the British parliament, the European Council might have to meet again before the official deadline of 29 March 2019.
For an orderly withdrawal
Again the Chancellor advocated an orderly solution. This is, she said, not only in the interests of the UK, but also in the interests of Germany and indeed all 27 member states.
Angela Merkel again cited the Northern Ireland question as the main obstacle to an agreement. She reaffirmed her commitment to the Strasbourg agreement hammered out between the EU and the United Kingdom, which lays out additional assurances on this point for the UK.
"The door is wide open"
Irrespective of the final form of the withdrawal, the EU still aims to ensure good and close relations in future, stressed Angela Merkel. That applies to foreign and security policy, to internal security and to the field of science and research. Relations obviously cannot be so close as they would be if the United Kingdom were still a member of the EU, she underscored, "but as far as we are concerned the door remains wide open for good and close cooperation in a spirit of friendship and for our mutual benefit".
Multilateralism has brought us peace and prosperity
The world order is changing and Europeans must consider how they wish to respond, said Angela Merkel. The Chancellor spoke out for multilateralism, which, she pointed out, has given us an era of prosperity and peace. Europe, she said, which will play an increasingly important role, should continue to uphold multilateralism "for the benefit of all".
Pledges on the basis of values
In spite of all the challenges, Europe is still a "stronghold of democracy" said Angela Merkel. Minorities are protected against persecution. Within the given legal framework, declared the Chancellor, everyone can "say, write and believe what they consider to be right". On the basis of these values, Europe has pledged people two things, and it must respect these pledges: prosperity and security.
EU’s economic power grows
In view of worldwide dynamics, it is not self-evident that these pledges can be upheld, she pointed out. That is why the debate surrounding the pledge to bring prosperity will be an important item on the agenda of the European Council. In recent years the EU has seen its economic power grow. Although the trends are pointing in the right direction, they are not sufficient to keep pace with world leaders. We must, for instance, to do everything to consolidate our common currency.
The Chancellor expressly thanked Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is making every effort to do just this, and is successful in these efforts. The capital market union must now be swiftly completed. To further strengthen competitiveness, progress has been made on the eurozone budget. Work is continuing on the financial transaction tax.
European industry is key to jobs
As well as consolidating the euro, jobs must be created in this digital age. "European industry is the key," said the Chancellor. It generates 80 per cent of exports and provides about 30 million jobs within the European Union.
Although medium-sized businesses are the backbone of industry, major players are needed to achieve market power. That is why the European Council will be discussing industrial policy. Germany and France have made a proposal. Promising projects – like battery cell production – should be supported at trans-national level. Networking of this sort is also needed in chip production and artificial intelligence.
China is a partner, but also a competitor
Over and above this, trade relations must be defined. In talks with the USA, Europe’s interest is in reducing tariffs rather than introducing new tariffs. The EU also wants to see European companies entitled to bid for contracts in the USA in the same way that American companies do in Europe. The demand for reciprocal market access applies even more to China. At the European Council meeting, the heads of state and government will be preparing for the EU-China summit, which is scheduled for 9 April 2019.
The People’s Republic of China is both a strategic partner and a competitor. The EU and China are involved in a competition of systems, said Angela Merkel. "We place our faith in a liberal social market economy, while China trusts in a managed state economy." That is why it is important for the European Union to take a common position vis à is partners in the world – and that applies to every country.
Pledge of security
The second major pledge involves security, said the Chancellor. "We all share the realisation that we in Europe must do more for our own security." If Europe is to provide the answers to new geopolitical challenges in future, the preconditions will have to be put in place inside and outside the Union.
With regard to migration, the Chancellor stressed that significant progress has been made in the field of European asylum policy, including the entry and exit register, which should be operational by 2020. She pointed to the improved protection of external borders and to the new partnership with Africa. "We are far from having achieved everything though" – and that is also part of the truth, said the Chancellor.
Angela Merkel pointed to the option of the EU states adopting various forms of solidarity and responsibility in efforts to address illegal migration and introduce regular migration. But, she said, what is not acceptable is for "individual member states simply to declare that they are not going to be part of any form of solidarity-based reallocation of refugees under any circumstances". "It is a question of principles, but there can of course be different weighting."
Able to take external action
With respect to Europe’s ability to take external action, the Chancellor expressly underscored cooperation with NATO and the expansion of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). In particular, Angela Merkel pointed to Germany’s commitment to NATO partners to raise defence spending by 2024 to 1.5 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product). This will also impact on the Permanent Structured Cooperation. Even this undertaking, she admitted, "does not yet meet the expectations of all alliance partners". "But I and the German government pledge that we will meet this commitment."
Being a good partner
In conjunction with the copyright debate and the issue of arms exports, the Chancellor warned that Germany is one of many partners within the EU, which means that "in the final analysis we must also be prepared to give a bit on our positions."
At the end of her speech the Chancellor expressed a strong commitment to Europe. Everything, she said, speaks for strengthening Europe, which has brought us 60 years of freedom, 60 years of peace and 60 years of prosperity.
Europe, in spite of all the problems it faces, means clean air and a good education for our children. Europe offers the best medical care in the world, and the highest consumer protection and data privacy standards. The market economy provides for economic development, while ensuring social protection. "Is it worthwhile fighting for this Europe? I say ‘Yes’!"