The agreement at the EU summit did not come easily. Does the community need to prepare itself for new interference from Poland and Hungary – and if so, how will it respond?
No, it didn’t come easily, but it was important to fight to reach this consensus. It is truly a key moment for the rule of law in the EU! What we really don’t need at the moment in the midst of the pandemic is a divided EU that stands in its own way. The people and enterprises that have been hit hard by COVID‑19 need rapid access to the funds from the EU’s recovery package. And it is also clear that the solution we have now found does not erode the substance of the rule of law mechanism. With it, we can in future respond to rule‑of‑law violations with regard to the use of EU funds by cutting back this funding.
What, in your opinion, are the chances of a last‑minute Brexit compromise?
Reaching an agreement grows more difficult with every passing day, but it is still possible. That is why we as the EU are continuing to negotiate as long as the window is still even slightly open. We will see what we manage to achieve by Sunday and then review the situation. We want to bring this negotiating marathon over the finish line, because with the pandemic we have another huge challenge that consumes our energy. But despite all willingness to compromise, we as the EU naturally also need to make sure that we do not lose sight of our own interests, such as the high environmental and consumer protection standards and the rules for fair competition. That is why we have always said that we want to reach an agreement, but not at any price.
How badly would a hard Brexit damage the German economy – and what could German businesses do to offset the disadvantages?
It is clear that without a deal, the WTO rules will apply from 1 January – including the customs tariffs set down in them. That would be the scenario we need to reckon with. But even with a deal, there will be economic repercussions. Brexit comes at a price, unfortunately also for our business in the EU. But fortunately we now have the agreement on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework, which is also to include a fund for the consequences of Brexit. We are working to ensure that small and medium‑sized enterprises that are severely affected by Brexit will also be able to access this support.