Merkel’s allies urge EU to break Brexit deadlock

Ahead of Irish trip, CSU pledges support for Ireland in all Brexit scenarios

German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt: “Ireland is not in the centre of Europe but politically it must be in the centre of European interests.” Photograph: Saoeren Stache

German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt: “Ireland is not in the centre of Europe but politically it must be in the centre of European interests.” Photograph: Saoeren Stache

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have demanded the EU do more to define its future relationship with the UK to break the Brexit deadlock and reduce Ireland’s no-deal exposure.

On Tuesday morning, the Bundestag parliamentary party of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) begins a three-day working visit to Ireland, meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, holding talks with Fine Gael counterparts and visiting the Northern Ireland border.

“Geographically, Ireland is not in the centre of Europe but politically it must be in the centre of European interests,” said Alexander Dobrindt, head of the CSU parliamentary party in the Bundestag.

“For us in Germany, the Irish question plays a very big role. When we talk and think about Brexit, the message we want to send is that we stand firmly on the side of the Irish.”

The CSU shares power in two German capitals: as sister party of Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin’s grand coalition, and in Bavaria’s state government in Munich.

In power there continuously since 1957, the CSU has overseen a transformation of Bavaria that mirror’s Ireland’s own transition from agrarian to high-tech economy.

Co-operation opportunities

Bavaria is home to BMW, Bayern Munich and the Oktoberfest, which competes annually for the title of world’s largest drinking session with St Patrick’s Day. Munich, home to Germany’s largest Irish community, hosts mainland Europe’s largest St Patrick’s Day Parade.

After inviting Mr Varadkar to the CSU’s winter retreat last January, the return visit is as much about identifying closer “BayIrish” co-operation opportunities.

Of high priority for both sides are pushing tourism as well as school exchanges and research collaborations, in particular on artificial intelligence.

But Brexit will loom large over the visit and, as Tories choose a new leader, Mr Dobrindt has called for greater efforts to “build bridges rather than trenches” between the EU27 and London.

The CSU politicians said any new British leader must understand that the EU would not change the withdrawal agreement protecting the Northern Ireland peace process and the Belfast Agreement.

But the CSU would welcome greater effort to define a “double plus” partnership with UK that will reflect its unique status even outside the EU.

Greater detail added to the so-called political agreement – separate to the withdrawal agreement – would, the CSU argues, ease British insecurities about being trapped in a permanent limbo status over the Northern Ireland backstop. This reflects calls already made by Dr Merkel and EU Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier.

“The correct step now would be to attempt to define precisely a realistic EU-UK future relationship . . . the key points of a trade agreement and the future relationship,” said Mr Dobrindt. “The withdrawal agreement cannot be continuously rewritten . . . but the sooner we come to talking about a trade agreement with the UK, the quicker we make practicable the withdrawal agreement.”

Fears placated

The three-day visit will see CSU politicians sit in on the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting and Taoiseach’s questions, meet their parliamentary committee counterparts in Leinster House, and visit the Border region to speak to those most affected by Brexit.

Following last week’s three-day state visit of President Michael D Higgins to Germany, this week’s visit is the latest push to widen and deepen Irish relations with the EU’s largest member state.

For the German side, it offers another opportunity to placate Irish fears that, when Brexit goes down to the wire, Berlin will push Dublin under the Brexit bus to salvage its own economic interests.

Senior figures in the CSU insist this is not going to happen, echoing senior members of Dr Merkel’s CDU.

For Gunther Krichbaum, the CDU head of the Bundestag European Affairs Committee, such a scenario is “unimaginable”.

“Neither the EU nor Germany will agree anything against Ireland’s interests,” he told The Irish Times. “We simply have to look reality in the eye that, thanks to domestic British turbulence, the dangers of a hard Brexit are increasing considerably once more.”

If it comes to a no-deal Brexit, he warned that “the EU must protect its outer border, in the interests of all, but that would always happen in close agreement with Dublin”.

Beyond Brexit, the CSU visit to Ireland includes a visit to Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation and a wreath-laying at the adjacent German soldiers’ graveyard.