What’s the German word for a feeling of being left in the dark?

Berlin officials try to remain optimistic ahead of potential Brexit breakthrough

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the  mechanical engineering summit in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the mechanical engineering summit in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA


You know a situation is serious when the Germans don’t have a word for it, and there is no term to describe the pessimistic optimism palpable in Berlin ahead of Thursday’s European Council meeting.

German officials who, like their chancellor, culturally and politically prefer preparation over improvisation, admitted they were torn about a meeting where, apart from the start time – 3pm – nothing else is known.

One experienced official, a self-described lifelong sceptic, said he was prepared to be proven wrong that Thursday’s European Council will not reach a Brexit compromise.

Ahead of Franco-German cabinet consultations on Wednesday in Berlin, Germany has backed council president Donald Tusk’s warning that last-minute negotiations should be avoided. Instead Berlin wants to see an agreed legal text as a precondition for talks among leaders.

“There has been progress and in such talks the greatest progress tends to happen in the last metres, things can happen between today and tomorrow,” said a seasoned senior official in Berlin on Tuesday.

It’s clear the Merkel administration is anxious to believe the positive music from Dublin and London suggesting that a last-minute deal is possible – but experienced enough in EU matters to be wary of being party to the unforeseen consequences of a rushed deal, presented at the last minute.

“But the last minute is always a little later than you think,” joked the official, not known for public displays of levity.

All member states want to be in the position to judge carefully what they are being asked to discuss, the official added, and this is not possible if new proposals come five minutes before the council begins on Thursday.

But apart from the start-time of 3pm, he added, Berlin so far is in the dark about what is to be discussed.

Germany has noted that a breakthrough will be more down to flexibility from Boris Johnson than innovative new proposals. But Merkel officials remain concerned over whether his concessions are politically deliverable in Westminster.

Berlin said it is prepared to follow the guidance of EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. If he says on Wednesday that a short delay will yield a result, Berlin will not stand in the way. If more technical talks are required, however, Germany opposes this without a formal request for an extension from London.

Officials declined to be drawn on whether they backed another summit before October 31st, saying they would wait and judge progress at this week’s leaders’ summit.