Like-minded partners in the world
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to the UK on Friday.She met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at his official country residence, Chequers. The two heads of government discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral, European and international issues.
Regular meetings between the cabinets
Following Britain’s exit from the European Union, the Federal Chancellor referred to the beginning of a new chapter in German-British relations. She announced new formats for cooperation such as the introduction of regular joint government consultations on an annual basis.
In Germany’s experience, she said, this can result in genuine cooperation which reflects the full spectrum of relationships and can pay off. “We in Germany are very willing to work on such a friendship treaty”, said Merkel.
Before the bilateral discussion, the Federal Chancellor had taken part in a video conference by the British cabinet and spoken to British government members – the first foreign head of government to do so since US President Clinton visited the British cabinet in 1997.
Deepening relationships on all levels
The British Prime Minister emphasised the good political, economic and cultural relations based on common values, saying that the Federal Chancellor was the first foreign head of government to participate in such an extensive meeting with the British government. As well as joint cabinet meetings, Johnson announced a new German-British cultural dialogue intended to bring together people in the arts and cultural scenes from both countries.
In this context, the Federal Chancellor emphasised the importance of close relationships in the cultural sector and between young people, saying: “Because the Erasmus programme no longer exists, we must find other formats”.
In the energy sector, funding for a direct electricity connection between Germany and Britain is to be increased in order to strengthen joint efforts to fight climate change.
Strengthening international cooperation
Merkel expressed thanks for the trusting cooperation at the G7 summit in Cornwall in mid-June and promised close cooperation with the British government in international questions, including COP 26. According to Merkel, the key question is, “how we can protect the values of liberal democracies in the age of digitalisation and cyber attacks”, as well as how the international community will behave towards Russia and China and be able to solve international conflicts. These questions would require intensive cooperation, said Merkel.
Northern Ireland protocol: finding pragmatic solutions
The discussions also included implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. This is intended to prevent customs checks from being introduced between the British province and the EU member Ireland. Instead, checks are to take place between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This has recently been called into question again by the British side. Federal Chancellor Merkel stressed that pragmatic solutions could be found here, which must safeguard the integrity of the domestic market on the one hand but be acceptable for the people on the other.
It was only on Wednesday that the European Union had extended the transition deadline for the unhindered export of meat and sausage products to Northern Ireland until 30 September. Merkel said that the extension of the deadline by three months was good news, and was optimistic that a pragmatic solution would be found during this time.
The Northern Ireland protocol ensures that there will be no checks at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement will be upheld in full. According to the regulation, Northern Ireland will remain part of the British customs area, but all the relevant EU domestic market regulations will be applied in Northern Ireland and the EU Customs Code will be applied. The necessary checks and duty collection will occur at points of entry into Northern Ireland, among other places.
Joint action against the COVID-19 pandemic
On the joint efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Chancellor said, “It is exciting to think that Biontech and Oxford-AstraZeneca were developed in our two countries and that they are now helping to overcome the pandemic all over the world.”
With regard to the spread of the Delta variant in Britain, the Federal Chancellor said, “We can see that the number of cases of the Delta variant is quickly rising in Germany, and I expect that, in the foreseeable future, those who have had two vaccinations will be able to travel again without going into quarantine, even now that Germany has classified the UK as a high-incidence area.”
However, she showed concern with regard to the broadcasting of the European Championship final in the UK with a large number of spectators and fans. “It concerns me to see so many fans at the European Championship and I wonder whether this is not too much.”
Private audience with the Queen
After the discussions at Chequers, Federal Chancellor Merkel met Queen Elizabeth II, who received the Federal Chancellor in a private audience at Windsor Castle. Merkel had already been received twice by the Queen (2008 and 2014) and had most recently met her in mid-June at an event linked to the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall.
Caroline Herschel Prize
During Federal Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Britain, Prime Minister Johnson also announced the foundation of a Caroline Herschel Prize in her honour for female scientists from Germany and Britain. The prize, named after the German-British astronomer and endowed with £10,000, is to be awarded annually to a female astrophysicist from Germany or the UK.
The Federal Chancellor praised the initiative of donating the prize for female astronomers and researchers. “The biography of Caroline Herschel shows how close the relations between our countries already were centuries ago,” she said.