Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

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A blog by Leon Oudejans

Brexit is a sideshow for Germany (FT)

16 June 2018


“UK problems are trivial compared with strained ties between the US and its allies” (FT)

“During a visit to Berlin this week I was struck, not for the first time, by how small a corner Brexit occupies in the minds of most Germans. Not only does Brexit diminish the UK’s strategic importance for Germany, it is also the least serious of several emerging threats to Germany’s national interests.

All the talk in London this week was about the struggle of Theresa May’s Conservative government to win various House of Commons votes on its EU withdrawal bill. In Berlin, the political theatre at Westminster seemed almost trivial.

More important, for German policymakers, was an acrimonious G7 summit in Canada that had just plunged relations between the US and its leading democratic allies to their lowest level in living memory.

In German eyes, Brexit is certainly not good news. But the G7 debacle conjured a spectre of immeasurably larger dimensions than Brexit. It was the nightmarish prospect that the US, the chief creator of the western alliance and the rules-based, liberal international order that took shape after 1945, might be turning into its chief destroyer.

It is hard to exaggerate how alarming this is for German business people, mainstream politicians and a majority of the public. No country has gained more than Germany from seven decades of US-backed western unity and the rules-based global order.

These arrangements have been Germany’s passport to democracy, political stability, prosperity, security and a full return to global respectability after the shame and horror of the Nazi era. They paved the way to peaceful national reunification in 1990 after Germany’s division during the cold war.

No wonder, then, that Germans have been stunned by events in Washington since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. They are aghast at the way he appears to reserve a particular animus for Germany. By comparison, Brexit is a sideshow.

These German attitudes were captured in an opinion pollcarried out by the Forsa research institute and published in April. It showed that 82 per cent of Germans were concerned about the Trump presidency; 75 per cent about crises in the Middle East; 71 per cent about North Korea; 66 per cent about European tensions with Russia; and only 39 per cent about Brexit.

Precisely because Germans do not regard Brexit as a priority issue, they see no need for their government to concede ground to London in the negotiations over the UK’s departure from the EU. According to the Forsa poll, 65 per cent want the EU to stick to its firm line against Britain.

Naturally, German business is concerned about the potential negative consequences of Brexit for trade, investment and profits. Take a report by the DIHK, one of Germany’s leading business associations.

It says that German trade with the UK is already “decreasing significantly” because of Brexit. One in every 12 German companies with investments in the UK is planning to move them to other markets.

Above all, however, the DIHK report undermines the argument of pro-Brexit UK politicians who for years have confidently forecast that business pressure on the German government will force concessions to London in the Brexit talks.

“Individual companies . . . point out that Brexit must not jeopardise the stability of the internal market in the remaining 27 EU countries. They warn against affording the UK too many privileges in the course of the negotiations,” the report says.”



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