BERLIN — Germany’s position on Brexit — that there can be no discussion of the future U.K. relationship with the EU until the divorce is settled — will remain unchanged no matter who wins September’s election, according to the country’s minister of state for European affairs.
“I can only hope that by fall of this year, we make substantial progress,” Michael Roth told POLITICO. “Otherwise, no negotiations on the future status of the United Kingdom towards the European Union can begin.”
In March, Britain officially launched a two-year negotiation period over its departure from the European Union, pitting its own desire for future trade deals and cooperation against consensus among the remaining 27 EU members that the U.K. must not be allowed to cherry-pick regarding its future relationship.
So far, however, Britain has failed to provide the European Commission with a consistent negotiating position, Roth said in an interview at the foreign ministry in Berlin.
“You’re expecting to get forward-looking answers from me, which are very difficult for me to give,” he said, “because so far, it’s remained completely unclear where this is supposed to be going for the Brits.”
“This makes it damned difficult for us,” he added. “We are excellently prepared. Our negotiating mandate is very detailed, transparent and verifiable. However, what’s still missing is a corresponding answer, and this is something only London can give.”
No Brexit bill — yet
Take the so-called bill for Brexit.
The German foreign ministry, where Roth is one of two deputies to Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, will not release any estimates on how much they believe Britain should pay on departure to meet its liabilities until certain basic principles of the separation are agreed.
“First of all, for example, it needs to be clarified where we stand when it comes to financial obligations that Great Britain has to fulfill beyond Brexit,” said Roth. “Once we’ve talked about those core elements we can fill the variables with concrete numbers.”
That’s regardless of what’s happening in German politics, he said.
In September, Germans will elect a new parliament, and Roth’s Social Democrats — currently junior partners in Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” government — are determined to push the long-term chancellor out of office. In opinion polls, however, the SPD’s candidate Martin Schulz currently lags more than 15 percentage points behind the conservative Merkel.
Neither the campaign nor the election outcome will have an impact on the country’s position, Roth said.
“Brexit is one of the issues where the Social Democrats and [Merkel’s conservatives] are in agreement — despite the election,” he said. “This will not change, no matter what formation will govern Germany after this fall.”
Forget ‘divide and rule’
Don’t expect Germany to backstab the European Commission, which is in charge of negotiating with the U.K. for the remaining 27 member countries, said Roth, making it clear that Berlin will stand up to any potential British attempt to “divide and rule“ the EU27.
“After all, the Commission doesn’t negotiate for itself but at the behest of 27 member countries,” he said. “We all have promised each other and sealed it with a handshake … that there won’t be any side negotiations — which, at the end of the day, would weaken us all.”
Roth declined to go into detail about what future deals between the EU and the U.K. could look like, but emphasized the “outstanding role” that the European Court of Justice plays in the European Union.
“In the EU, we need to accept and implement its decision,” he said. “This will be a particularly critical aspect of the negotiations with the United Kingdom — and I doubt that we, as the European Union, will have much leeway.”
Germany’s position on Brexit has not changed since the day the Brits voted to leave, Roth said — and he rejected talk in Britain that Germany’s carmakers, eager to protect their sales, are lobbying for a deal handing Britain substantial access to the EU market.
“I consider this quite erroneous,” Roth said.
“My unsolicited advice to the British side would be to engage less in reading the coffee grounds,” he added, “and instead do its homework and tell us with which concrete goals and what negotiating mandate they would like to go into the next talks.”