The Irish Times view on Germany’s approach to Brexit: Solidarity with Ireland

Germans have an innate ability to separate political content from bluster

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘Don’t despise compromise. Compromise is what keeps society together.’  Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘Don’t despise compromise. Compromise is what keeps society together.’ Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA

 

West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once said that a democracy without argument is not a democracy. Looking in on the political bedlam in the House of Commons, perhaps a little less argument would do British democracy the power of good. Three years and two prime ministers after British voters decided to leave the EU, their MPs cannot agree on the best – or least worst way – to depart.

Given the high stakes for our economy and society, the close attention in Ireland is understandable. But as the breathless debate unfolds in real time in London and beyond, it is worth looking further afield to another key player in the unresolved EU-UK stand-off.

In Germany, Brexit is making daily headlines but is not the subject of the same breaking news orgy of minute-by-minute coverage. On Thursday, for instance, the Bild tabloid – with its eight-million readers – decided the mortality risk of soft drinks was more important than Boris Johnson’s woes.

Solidarity with Ireland is linked to Merkel's second Brexit priority: a stable EU and cohesion of its single market

Brexit was consigned to the bottom of page two. Meanwhile, the front page of the left-wing Tageszeitung, always reliable for a bracing take on the news, headlined the languorous pose of Jacob Rees-Mogg on a green leather commons banquette: “Wake us up when Brexit’s over.”

Germany’s greater sense of detachment from the UK reflects its more distant history and geography. Yet Germany’s export economy, and Berlin’s unique commitment to the European project arising from its wartime horrors, mean the EU’s largest country has more skin in this game than many others. – and have no illusions about where Johnson’s talents lie.

In the tradition of her mentor Helmut Kohl, with his ear for smaller EU member states, Chancellor Angela Merkel insists Germany stands with the small island remaining in the EU – not the one leaving.

But solidarity with Ireland is linked to her second Brexit priority: a stable EU and cohesion of its single market. Angela Merkel hates what-if speculation and has held back – so far – from asking publicly how the Government intends to guarantee single market integrity should an outer-EU border divide the Republic and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

As the clock runs down on the October 31st deadline – and Dr Merkel’s border reticence – her address to students last weekend may provide some insight into her disposition.

The chancellor mourned the death of political trade-offs and constructive ambiguity. “Don’t despise compromise,” she told graduates in Leipzig. “Compromise is what keeps society together.” It was a modern riff on Helmut Schmidt’s old advice: democracy without trade-offs is not a democracy.

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