“Pacta sunt servanda – agreements must be kept”
We have said before that the Brexit negotiations, by their very nature, will not be conducted by the UK in isolation; and that an understanding of the other sides’ motivations should not be ignored.
Having shared the Irish perspective previously, in a further attempt to stay alive to what the rest of Europe thinks, our colleagues from Berlin this week offer their views and interpretation of recent developments. Three observations struck us in London:
- Prime Minister Theresa May’s clarification of her Government’s strategic priorities in the negotiations are perceived very differently in Germany from elsewhere;
- At present, each side believes it maintains the upper hand and thus has the ability to force compromises to its own advantage;
- Decisions made in the name of Brexit or the future of the EU have the potential lastingly to alter the democratic and institutional structures and processes we’ve grown used to – on all sides of the table.
In the Brexit game of exit, voice, or loyalty, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Theresa May, the game’s major players appear to have made their choice: despite its costs and dangers, and notwithstanding creeping dislike for the term, each appears to prefer a hard Brexit. “Brexit means Brexit,” said Theresa May. And Angela Merkel agreed that it was on the UK to “deliver what had been promised.”
Angela Merkel has since taken steps to reduce the number of players partaking in the game as it evolves, declaring this week largely to exclude the German Bundestag from the bargaining table. It suits her stated objective of expediting decision-making processes in Europe though, while strategically impressive, raises questions about the future direction of democratic scrutiny of executive decisions.
Meanwhile, the rules of the game are on shaky grounds.
According to the rules—the principles upon which the foundation of the European project stands—there is no exception allowing continued membership of the Single Market without simultaneous free movement of capital, goods, services and people.
Protecting the foundation of the EU (safeguarding the rules of the game to ensure it lives to see another day), Merkel is keen to send a clear signal to anyone else considering to throw in their cards: any prospect of leaving has to be unattractive; and she wants to see the UK’s impending hard exit become exactly that.
So practically, from the German perspective, the UK visibly has to endure some hardship as a result of the British people’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. That much has been made clear, either diplomatically (as Merkel has done) or through slightly more direct calls to “punish the UK” (as France’s President Francois Hollande has done). The motivations for this are manifold: from pure revenge to defending the sacrosanct European community to seeking to take full advantage of any vacancies left by the UK’s departure; Hollande’s declarations for France to become Europe’s near-central Euro clearing point are but one example of the latter.
There is some recognition that the UK’s potential exclusion from the Single Market and the shifting economic structures might harm the European Union, too, but Germany and France stand tall in their belief that they have the odds on their side.
To them, Theresa May’s rhetoric is just that. To them, Theresa May is in a difficult, nigh impossible, position to provide a credible treaty that offers access to the Single Market and restrictions to the free movement of people at the same time. To them, therefore, the only option Theresa May has left on her side of the table is that of a hard Brexit.
With positions around the table declared and publicly repeated, everything is pointing to that hard Brexit. The business world might still be in shock as to the British people’s decision this summer, but the German view is that time has come to face reality.