Europe

Brexit – From a German Perspective

Brexit - From a German Perspective
© Pixabay

Granted, the outcome of the referendum on the issue of Great Britain leaving the EU is already a few months old. Still, we thought it might be worthwhile, to sum up, the matter from a German perspective. To be frank, the whole process that led up to the referendum seemed rather absurd to me, and I dare say to the majority of Germans following the news. Figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson created a resemblance to the 2016 election campaign in the USA, but maybe that’s due to our typical politician being more of a bland character. Up to the last weeks before the vote, most people I talked to and I guess even most of our political experts did not believe the so-called Brexit could be possible. Boy, were we proven wrong.

If I were to generalize, which I am, I’d say that the majority of Germans tends to be pro-European and pro-EU. While we have our share of euro-sceptical parties, even the biggest of them, the AFD, was not being able to achieve success solely on this issue. Only after turning into an outright right-wing party, the AFD became a lot more successful. Meanwhile, the new party of AFD-Founder Bernd Lucke, still running on the anti-Euro issue, has faded to insignificance.

Back to Brexit

The closer the referendum came, the more German media outlets acknowledged that it could happen and began to speculate on its possible consequences. What would it mean for visiting friends and family in the United Kingdom? Or just for that weekend trip to London? What would the British leaving the EU mean for our economy? For Germany’s role in Europe? In general, there was this fear of Britain just moving into a greater distance, without actually moving at all. Then again, supporters of the European idea were afraid that the Brexit would strengthen Germany’s leading role in the EU even more. A role, that, in their eyes, had not been beneficial for all of Europe but had been somewhat responsible for the economic division of north and south within the union, especially within the Eurozone.

When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least – some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.

As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals – as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.

But taking the British people and the British media into account that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany, one of the very few countries who would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.

german culture

Germany wants UK to stay in EU

United Kingdom stays in the European Union
© Image by IMAGE-WS via Pixabay

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made an impassioned appeal, last week, for Britain to remain in the European Union.

Supporting British Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls for a renegotiation of the EU terms of membership, she told the German government that she was “convinced that it is in our national interest for Great Britain to remain an active member in a strong and successful European Union.”

She also asked her government to understand the British position and pointed out that Cameron’s plans would have a positive impact on every EU member state. “Far from being demands that are just for Britain, they are also European demands and many of them are justified and necessary” she said.

In Everyone’s Interests

Merkel made her statement shortly before Cameron attended a two day EU summit in Brussels, where European leaders gathered to discuss his proposal for potential reforms. Among many things, he called for tighter rules on immigration and benefits – both hot topics throughout Europe due to increasing refugee waves.

In order to achieve success, Cameron will have to get 28 EU leaders to pledge their support to the package that was drawn up by EU council president Donald Tusk.

Merkel has already made her support vocal. She agrees with Cameron that countries not in the Eurozone should not be pushed aside, and also said that “there is no point of dissent between the UK and Germany as far as social systems are concerned.”

Protecting the UK benefits system has long been a key concern of the British premier, and Merkel backing him up has given his concerns significant weight. France and Ireland have also weighed in with their support, and French PM Francois Hollande has said that Britain has a “firm basis” for an agreement. However, these ideas have received significant criticism from Eastern European governments, most notably Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has been the most outspoken, saying that he would be in full support of the measures so long as they don’t affect the wellbeing of his citizens. The reforms include a clause about imposing child benefit limits on migrants, leading to concerns amongst Eastern European governments that the reforms will hit their citizens hardest. They have, in response, proposed that the limits only apply to new arrivals in the UK, and not to citizens currently residing in EU countries.

In response to these reprovals, Merkel quashed any arguments that the new system would be unfair by stating that the original EU principles of free movement and non-discrimination were “not open for discussion.”

Should they stay or Should they go?

The summit was held shortly after polls revealed that the majority of “mainland” Europeans want Britain to remain in the EU, with 60% for and 10% against. But the British public are less divided, with just 50% wanting to remain in the EU compared with 40% who want to leave. Cameron has promised that a nationwide referendum will be scheduled for before the end of 2017, but it’s looking like a vote could happen as early as June this year.

Cameron’s business-oriented government will surely be paying attention to the results of another poll that asked British and German business leaders “how would a Brexit affect your investments? “.Over 30% of businessmen and women polled said that Britain leaving the EU would have a “very” or “somewhat” negative impact over the coming three years, and 29% said that they would definitely reduce their UK operations if a Brexit was confirmed, with many stating that they would withdraw altogether.

Business managers overwhelmingly want Britain to stay in the EU, with 76% of British firms and 83% of German firms agreeing. “The prospect that almost a third of British and German companies threaten to reduce or remove their activities in the UK should cause concern among politicians as well as the general public,” stated the authors of the report.

Would you want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union? And if so why?
Tell us in the comments.