Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the UK have reached "the final sprint", German chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference with French president Emmanuel Macron in Toulouse on Wednesday evening. "We think it will be possible to reach an agreement," Dr Merkel said. "I think so more and more . . . I wish our negotiator Michel Barnier all success."
Mr Macron shared Dr Merkel’s optimism. He expressed “our will and our hope to see an accord approved in the coming hours. The echoes that reached us today were positive”.
The French leader hoped Mr Barnier was “in the process of reaching at the same time a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on the future relationship [between the UK and the EU].”
Both leaders want the agreement to be endorsed at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. And both praised the role of Mr Barnier.
“I want to pay homage to the work accomplished by our negotiator,” Dr Merkel said. “He has worked in difficult conditions. He succeeded in maintaining the unity of the 27 EU countries. We have total confidence in him. We never had the impression he worked behind anyone’s back, and that is very important.”
Mr Macron said Mr Barnier “carried out the negotiations since the beginning with great seriousness, with respect for all member states and for the European Parliament”.
One might have expected a lighter, happier mood as the seemingly endless Brexit saga reaches a conclusion. But the mood was one of cautious expectation. Mr Macron appeared distracted. Dr Merkel was her usual plodding self. Perhaps they feared jinxing the final phase of negotiations.
The five-page joint Franco-German declaration issued by Dr Merkel and Mr Macron talked about climate change and biodiversity, strengthening the European economy, ambition for innovation in new technologies and artificial intelligence, the European space programme, defence co-operation, the reform of migration and asylum and the new EU directive on the respect of copyright by internet giants. It did not mention Brexit once.
Both leaders forcefully condemned the Turkish intervention in northern Syria, not for the first time. Mr Macron noted that together, France and Germany obtained a commitment from EU members to halt all arms sales to Turkey. They will co-ordinate with fellow members of Nato "to continue pressure, dialogue and resolution of this unacceptable situation", he added.
The French president expressed fears that the Turkish offensive would “help Daesh [Islamic State] be reborn from the ashes”.
Mr Macron said Turkey had used a "fallacious argument" that the Kurdish fighters it is pursuing are terrorists. He admitted that "in the northern region there are certain Turkish militias that are close to the [Turkish Kurdish extremists] PKK, and who have a terrorist character in Turkey". They must not be confused with Syrian Kurds who fought with the coalition against Islamic State, he said.