Germany positive on Brexit breakthrough without changes to withdrawal deal
In talks with central European leaders, Merkel says Irish interests must be protected
Prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orban kisses German chancellor Angela Merkel on the hand after the Visegrad Group Summit press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photograph: Jakub Kaminski/EPA
German chancellor Angela Merkel has said she believes the Brexit impasse can be resolved without changing the withdrawal agreement reached by Britain and the European Union, and that Ireland’s interests must be a priority in any deal.
“We all have an interest – I see that with the British parliament and the British government, with Theresa May, but with us too – in achieving an orderly exit for Britain as that is better for all of us,” Dr Merkel said on Thursday.
“I think we can find solutions without reopening the withdrawal agreement. That is not on the agenda for us,” she added during a visit to Slovakia.
“We must protect the integrity of our internal market, that is clear . . . But we also want provisions, for example, that are important and necessary for our member state Ireland, as we know about the fragility between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
Dr Merkel arrived in Bratislava as Ms May held fresh talks with top EU officials in Brussels, and the German leader urged both sides to make the most of the time remaining before Britain’s planned departure from the bloc on March 29th.
“Fifty days is not much, and 50 days is a lot, depending on how you view it,” she said.
“Of course it also our duty to get such an agreement – that requires Britain to say as clearly as possible what they want.”
She met leaders of the so-called Visegrad group states – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – who share her opposition to a no-deal Brexit and are particularly concerned over the fate of their many compatriots who work and study in the United Kingdom.
They gathered to mark 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communist regimes across central Europe, and to call for EU unity at a time when the bloc is preparing to bid farewell to a major member and is divided over issues such as migration and respect for the rule of law.
Brussels is suing Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to accept refugees under an EU scheme, and the nationalist governments in Budapest and Warsaw also face disciplinary action over reforms that allegedly undermine key democratic institutions.
The leaders largely steered clear of those sensitive subjects on Thursday, but did agree to co-operate on a project in Morocco to try to reduce migration from North Africa.
Dr Merkel also addressed discord over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would double the volume of gas that Russia can pump directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Visegrad states and Ukraine.
They share US opposition to a Berlin-backed plan that they fear would allow Russia to starve their region of gas and lucrative transit fees for the fuel.
“Do we become dependent on Russia due to this second gas pipeline? I say ‘no’, if we diversify at the same time,” Dr Merkel argued. “Germany will expand its terminals for liquefied gas. That means that we don’t want to make ourselves dependent on Russia under any circumstances.”