– verbatim report of proceedings –
Mr President, Fellow Members of this House, according to a recent study, people reach their emotional low point in their late 40s, across countries, genders and incomes. To be more precise, people are most miserable at 47.2 years of age. But – and I can tell you this from my own experience – things get better again after that.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s probably a historic coincidence, but when the UK cut its ties with Brussels on 31 January, the British had been members of the EU for exactly 47 years and one month.
The UK is now a third country. Therefore – and I think we needn’t delude ourselves on this score – our relationship will inevitably be less close than it has been up to now. With all due respect for the decisions that have been taken in the UK, I, and I think many of us, regret this very much. Moreover, I don’t have any illusions that the EU might emerge from this unchanged.
However – perhaps also in view of everything that lies before us up until 31 December of this year – now is the right time to look ahead and to shape the future: both within the EU, and, above all, with respect to the future of the EU and its relationship with the UK as well as our bilateral relations with the UK.
One thing is clear here, namely that the closest possible partnership with the UK is what we want, across the board. The draft mandate that the Commission presented on 3 February and which the member states are expected to adopt on 25 February provides a good basis for this.
For us, the negotiations in the coming months will focus on one thing above all else, and that is protecting our citizens and safeguarding their interests, both in the EU and in the UK. This applies, for example, to economic and trade agreements. While the UK will remain a close friend and partner, it is also becoming a competitor. Boris Johnson himself, in his own way, never tires of emphasising this. So yes, the EU wants a free trade zone without tariffs and without quotas. But that also means zero dumping and zero unfair competition.
This isn’t what we’re hearing from London all the time right now, unfortunately. The UK, however, will have to take this into account, especially if it wants to continue to enjoy tariff-free access to the largest single market in the world. In any case – and we discussed this again yesterday in Berlin in a meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, we cannot and will not engage in a race to the bottom in terms of environmental standards or the rights of employees and consumers.
In the area of internal security too – whether in the fight against terrorism or in investigating cross‑border crime – protecting citizens is our top priority. That’s why we will ensure that we cooperate very closely in future, especially where exchanging data is concerned – this is a particular challenge – provided that a high level of data protection is guaranteed and that human rights and other civil rights in connection with data protection – this is becoming an increasingly important issue in the digital world – are respected to the letter, as London has promised.
In foreign and security policy, we are offering the UK a new, bespoke partnership. And in fact, we have to do this because it is particularly in this respect that we will continue to need the UK in the future. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a close partner in the G7 and G20 formats, London will remain a key point of contact for us. In the absence of being able to coordinate our efforts in Brussels, however, we will need new formats of cooperation. That is why it is good that the EU wants to start “structured consultations” with the UK already prior to the end of 2020.
And, ladies and gentlemen, beyond the negotiations with the EU, we will continue to work closely with our British friends also bilaterally. My colleague Dominic Raab and I intend to sign a joint declaration on this in the coming weeks, which will, for example, facilitate regular meetings at ministerial level and state secretary consultations between Germany and the UK.
Ladies and gentlemen, a basic principle that applied to the Brexit negotiations must now also apply to the upcoming negotiations: the more united we act as the EU, the better the outcome of our negotiations will be, especially when it comes to ensuring fair competition.
We’re also counting on the support of the Parliament in this regard, ladies and gentlemen. The opinion that we’re voting on today provides a good basis, in my view.
Allow me to add that you can rest assured that we, the Federal Government, will continue to closely involve the German Bundestag and the competent committees in every phase of the negotiations that are now due to take place, especially when we hold the Council Presidency in the second half of this year, in order to keep you informed, but also to coordinate our efforts with the Parliament.
Fellow Members of this House, the study I quoted at the beginning of my speech also gives us hope for the future, because after 47.2 years of life, people’s happiness curve starts to rise again.
It is in this spirit that we will now, together with the Commission, specifically with Michel Barnier, quickly begin negotiations, and we will do so in the form of overall packages. We do not want individual issues to be negotiated and perhaps attempts to be made to reach special arrangements with individual EU member states, but we will tackle this together as member states of the EU.
So let’s use the coming months to work with our British friends – and they will remain our friends as well as our partners; important partners in all the global challenges we face – to endeavour together, as Europeans, to find a good solution for the future of Europe.
Thank you very much.