During a meeting on Friday (8 July), Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier and his Irish counterpart Charlie Flanagan had in‑depth talks on the future of the European Union following the vote in the UK to leave the EU. Brexit could have a particular impact on Ireland.
Charles Flanagan was by no means the only Irishman in Berlin on Friday: more than 1500 of his compatriots live in the German capital, helping to boost the creative industries in the start‑up scene. The two Foreign Ministers agreed that this was a typical example of how European achievements such as the freedom of movement for citizens were paying off.
Steinmeier and Flanagan spoke at length about issues of importance to people throughout Europe following the Brexit vote: how can the substantial progress which has been made in the EU not only be protected but also renewed and further developed? How should member states deal now with the withdrawal candidate Britain?
“This is not the time to become hysterical or to be paralysed by shock. Rather we have to patiently prepare ourselves for the negotiations and to show people in our countries that the European Union is capable of taking action,” Steinmeier said at a joint press conference with his Irish counterpart after the talks.“
Special situation for Ireland
Britain’s potential withdrawal leaves Ireland facing a very special challenge. The membership of both states in the EU meant that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was almost irrelevant in everyday life. People from both parts of the island can meet and commute over the border to work every day without any problems. Steinmeier highlighted the possible consequences for the peace process in Northern Ireland:
We have to look at the consequences of this referendum not only from the angle of economic or European policy. The fact that the United Kingdom and Ireland are both members of the European Union means that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has become invisible. That could change now and there is thus a danger that old conflicts will flare up once more.
Foreign Minister Flanagan stressed how important European integration had been for the peace process in Northern Ireland. He went on to say that the support of the Irish people for the European project was undiminished, also due to the fact that access to the European single market and the euro had made possible the country’s impressive economic growth.
Solidarity is essential
After the exchange, it was clear to Steinmeier and Flanagan that the European Union had to be further developed with commitment but also with understanding for the different situations of the member states. The Foreign Ministers emphasised that solidarity among the 27 was essential.