Mr President, Members of the Bundestag,
It isn’t very often that we have to introduce laws that we would much prefer not to introduce. But we are having to do so in this case. There is a reason for this. I’m sure that many people here and throughout Germany, and not just myself, regret the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. But ultimately we, of course, accept the decision taken by the British public and are grappling with the consequences.
The Transitional Brexit Bill we are adopting today is one of these consequences. This bill aims to create legal clarity for citizens and enterprises for the planned transition phase up to the end of 2020. In the coming months other laws will be adopted in addition to this bill, also in case the United Kingdom should leave the EU without an agreement.
And at this point I want to reiterate quite clearly that it goes without saying that the Federal Government wants an agreement, as does the European Commission. We are working intensively with the European Commission to this end, and I am optimistic that we will succeed on the final stretch. For we are on the final stretch, regardless of whether it is 90 or 95 per cent on which we have now negotiated a compromise, including quite difficult aspects such as the rights of citizens and the question of financial disentanglement. All this is progress that has advanced even further in recent days. I am confident that at the end of the day, the United Kingdom will withdraw from the EU with an agreement in place. That will be good for all parties.
The most difficult point, as you are aware, remains the border issue in Ireland. The difficulty lies in the fact that it not only involves economic and customs-related issues, but ultimately centres on the peace hard won 20 years ago in Northern Ireland. This peace was due to the European Union and its open borders. All sides know this and are also aware of their responsibility to preserve this peace in Europe, but also and above all in Ireland and in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom. At the end of the day, a withdrawal agreement is therefore needed that preserves both peace in Northern Ireland and at the same time – and this is the real problem – the integrity of the single market as the basis of the European Union.
In this context, one thing is indisputable: Brexit must not mean the end of our partnership with our British friends. The United Kingdom remains part of our community of shared values and activity in Europe, and this Europe faces immense challenges, with or without the United Kingdom. I am thinking of the conflicts in our neighbourhood, I am thinking of our future approach to the United States, Russia and China, I am thinking of terrorism and the threats to public safety. In future, too, we need a foreign and security policy partnership with the United Kingdom that is as close and far-reaching as it can be outside the European Union. That is why we are already also working on this issue with the relevant representatives of the British Government.
The same applies to trade relations. Of course, it is unavoidable that these will be less close than they are today. This departure is bound to make itself felt in certain areas. Yet ultimately we are doing everything we can to avoid unnecessary barriers and obstacles while protecting the single market and the competitiveness of our own economy in these negotiations. That must also be part of the outcome.
As far as the European Union is concerned, its future relationship with the United Kingdom is not the only issue. Its credibility is also at stake, as is, ultimately, the future of the common European project. In two days, on 11 November, the bells will ring across Europe and remind us of the end of the First World War 100 years ago. Yet this shared act of remembrance also reminds us of what the response to the darkest chapter of the last century was: Europe.
Our answer to globalisation, climate change, demographic developments and migration cannot be found in a return to the nation-state. For our national interests are not defined through isolation from our neighbours. Only in cooperation with our neighbours will we be able to defend our values and interests in a world which is once again increasingly dominated by the law of the strong.
To this end, ladies and gentlemen, we need to preserve that which previous generations could only dream of – a united Europe.
Thank you very much.