On 29 March 2017, the UK officially triggered its withdrawal from the EU. In line with the Treaty on European Union, this means that the UK’s EU membership will automatically end after two years at the latest – on 29 March 2019 – if no decision is taken in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty to extend the deadline (this would require a UK request for extension and a unanimous decision by the European Council). The negotiations, which aim to reach agreement, before the deadline, on the Brexit process, are being conducted by the European Commission under the political control of the Member States. Besides the withdrawal agreement, a political declaration is also envisaged that will define the framework for future relations.
Agreement has been reached on numerous issues for the withdrawal agreement, including on the rights of citizens and questions relating to financial disentanglement. The draft withdrawal agreement also provides for a transitional phase until the end of 2020, during which Great Britain will continue to be treated as a de facto EU member, with the exception of institutional rights (i.e. no seat or voting rights in the Council, no EU Commissioner, no representatives in the European Parliament, etc.). However, some key questions remain open, in particular how the common goal of preventing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can be achieved.
In March, the European Council published its so-called guidelines, which set out the EU’s position on future relations with the United Kingdom. These guidelines clearly state that the EU wants to continue having a close political and economic partnership with the UK. However, it is an unavoidable fact that relations will be less comprehensive and deep than those among EU Member States. That will also affect areas such as trade, security, foreign policy and defence policy. On 12 July 2018, the UK Government presented its White Book containing ideas on what the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU should look like. As a result, negotiations are intensifying and have entered their decisive phase.
To give both the UK and the European Parliament enough time to adopt the withdrawal agreement, consensus on the entire package is being sought this autumn.
Which objectives is the Federal Government pursuing?
The Federal Government and the EU as a whole are seeking a fair withdrawal agreement with the UK that regulates the disentanglement in as smooth a way as possible and largely limits the damage that will inevitably be caused by Brexit. One of the Federal Government’s priorities for the negotiations is to safeguard the interests of German citizens. Another focus is on averting any damage that Brexit could cause to the European Union at large. This aspect is important particularly for businesses, as well as for science and research.
The German Government has a continued interest in maintaining a close partnership between the EU and the UK. However, it is important to emphasise that the advantages of EU membership cannot be enjoyed without the obligations it entails. It was with this in mind that the Heads of State and Government of the EU27 made it clear in their statement of 29 June 2016, shortly after the UK referendum, that future relations must be characterised by a balance between rights and obligations. The UK’s closeness to the EU’s internal market and customs union will depend on the extent to which the UK continues to abide by the European Union’s rules.
What role is the Federal Foreign Office playing?
As the lead ministry for the Brexit negotiations, the Federal Foreign Office is tasked with ensuring that German interests and objectives are taken into consideration by the EU in the negotiations. To this end, the Federal Federal Foreign Office coordinates the positions of the Federal Government, which are then taken into the negotiations in the respective committees in Brussels.
Moreover, the Federal Government established a Cabinet Committee on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on 22 November 2016 (this committee was reactivated by the new Federal Government in April 2018) and is engaged in a very close and regular dialogue with the German Bundestag, Bundesrat, cities and municipalities. Many discussions are being held with representatives of affected Germans in the UK, as well as with business representatives and representatives from science organisations. This ensures that all German and European concerns are taken into account during the negotiations.
Find out more:
The negotiations are being held in a very transparent way by the European Union. All relevant documents can be accessed through the Brexit Task Force (TF50) website of the European Commission, at: ec.europa.eu