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German reactions to the Brexit vote

Most Germans have followed the Brexit debate with bewilderment. Nobody really expected that the nationalistic and anti-immigration arguments of the Leave campaign would win. While it was always clear that it would be an extremely close call, most commentators and experts believed the rational arguments would win. After all this vote has not only far reaching consequences for Britain and the EU but also for future generations.

by the Know Nothing Enquirer   30/06/2016              

German politicians at the national and European levels warn that Britain will not be able to pick the best of both worlds. This would give fatal signals to populists throughout the EU and many fear it could be the beginning of the end of the European project. There has also been a perception in Germany that Britain has been given far too advantageous membership terms and that it was never really properly immersed in the European idea. There seems to be a consensus that future negations between the EU and Britain have to be tough. The UK could only remain in the European Economic Area if the country applies the fundamental European principle of free movement of labour. This has been stressed throughout the entire campaign - mostly as a reaction to the deceiving promises the Leave campaign were making. Here are some of the reactions of German (national and EU) politicians and political commentators:

Future Relationship with Britain: 


Angela Merkel, CDU:

“We will ensure that negotiations don't take place according to the principle of cherry-picking ... It must and will make a noticeable difference whether a country wants to be a member of the family of the European Union or not. Whoever wants to leave this family can't expect to do away with all of its responsibilities while keeping the privileges.”


Martin Schulz, SPD MP, President of the European Parliament:

“The current Europe is falling back to a Europe of nation states that prioritise their interests above the common interest. This is what the majority just voted for in the UK. If we continue this way, [the EU] will fail. That’s why I belong to those who say let’s not give up the individual nation states, but in issues where we can’t achieve anything alone - including migration - we have to find a European solution — collectively and not against each other.”


Günther Oettinger, CDU politician, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society:

“The situation is extremely serious after the referendum. National egotisms […] should not be possible anymore.”


Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, FDP MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament:

There will be no rebate. Future negotiations will be very tough. However, Britain remains our neighbour, Britain remains our friend.”


Hans-Peter Uhl, CSU MP:

“You should not hold up a traveller. Great Britain is now a third-party state


Elmar Broks, CDU MEP, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee:

“The UK must trigger Article 50 soon. We can’t let the British wait for too long. This would only encourage others to follow the British example and we have to firmly reject this.”


Michael Gahler, CSU MEP:

“The consequences have to be noticeable


Martin Jachtenfuchs, Professor for European and Global Governance:

“Exit referendums should not be worth it. The EU would be history if the result of the post-Brexit negotiations implies that everybody who conducts a referendum is successful in achieving their goals. It’s not about punishing the UK but to ensure that threatening to leave the EU will not result in any benefits.”


Kiran Klaus Patel, Professor for European and Global History:

“There is an illusion that one can actually return to a 19th century style state of full national sovereignty. This isn’t possible anymore in the 21st century due to the high degree of linkages between European societies and economies.”

“On the one hand, all parties involved are interested in continuing the strong and tight ties and, therefore, reach a fast and relatively generous solution. This could be a deepened free trade area. On the other hand, it is important to show strength to serve as a deterrent to other populist movements.”

Impact on the European Union:


Martin Schulz, SPD MP, President of the European Parliament:

“We have a common currency in 19 countries but we have 19 different tax policies in these countries with the result that if you speculate, on the one hand, you can make huge profits and not pay any taxes and, on the other hand, you can make huge losses and the tax payer will have to bail you out. This cannot continue. I think everybody is aware of this. This is why we need a more united and uniform European Union and not what is happening at the moment, namely creating divisions.”


Hans-Peter Uhl, CSU MP:

[Brexit] is a chance for Europe. While the UK is leaving the EU, we will have to restructure, update and reform the EU. And there are a lot of challenges, such as the migration problems, terrorism, Russia or Turkey, that will be easier to tackle thanks to the ‘Franco-German engine’.”


Elmar Broks, CDU MEP, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee:

“When the cherry picking starts and nobody respects rights and obligations, […] the EU will dissolve itself.”

“The national states have to give Europe much needed instruments to ensure Europe put its its competencies into practice.”


Michael Gahler, CSU MEP:

“The fact that most EU members are net beneficiaries will limit such desires [i.e. exiting the EU].”


Martin Jachtenfuchs, Professor for European and Global Governance:

“Refugee crisis, euro crisis, et cetera — in these instances you can’t say that less Europe is good and satisfy the nationalist movements. Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders will never be content with just this.”


Günther Oettinger, CDU politician, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society:

“I can think of many ways how to strengthen the EU, especially in areas where only a united Europe has authority, and to introduce these developments without risky treaty changes.”

“Unfortunately, Brexit shows what’s really at stake and hopefully it will help us focus on what is important and what we cherish about the European Union despite all the shortcomings”.


Karl Lamers, former CDU foreign policy expert:

“I am deeply convinced that Europe is not something we could either engage in or forget about, but rather something that we have to do. It’s the European answer to the extremely dense supranational reality in Europe that has outdated the territorial principal of power.”


Navid Kermani, writer and political commentator:

“My generation didn’t grow up with the biographical justification (“Urgrund”) - the obviousness that one is pro-Europe. We always had a utilitarian relationship with Europe. We enjoyed the benefits but if we didn’t appreciate something we distanced ourselves from Europe. If you use this logic of a cost-benefit analysis, […] Europe isn’t benefiting us in many ways. The older generations know what poverty and oppression mean. The existential impulse is missing with the younger generations.”

“But why isn’t Europe working? For many years European decisions have not been made in the collective interest of Europe but rather for the interests of individual countries. We have the problem that Europe’s politicians are making decisions for 500 million people yet only pay attention to the egotistic interests of their voters in their own countries. Europe isn’t failing in the refugee crisis. National answers are failing. The solution can’t be to give more power to the nation states but to finally make real reforms and overhaul the European institutions to ensure that they make collective decisions and make the European Union capable of functioning effectively again.”


Helmut Kohl, former CDU chancellor:

“Europe needs a break”

On David Cameron:


Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, FDP MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament:

“[David Cameron] has made one political mistake after the next. This is the consequence. [He] has to take responsibility for the catastrophic development of British politics.”


Kiran Klaus Patel, Professor for European and Global History:

“The problem is that the Remain campaign never managed to force the Brexiteers to explain what they actually want. A free trade area, such as the one with Switzerland? Or go even further, such as the Norwegians, who are part of the European Economic Area? Or much further?”


On Boris Johnson:


Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, FDP MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament:

“Boris Johnson lives in a parallel universe. He is leading people to believe in things that are completely illusory. The Brexit campaigners obviously did not have a plan for the day of their victory. This shows what happens when irresponsible populism wins.”


Martin Schulz, SPD MEP, President of the European Parliament:

“Boris Johnson is going the wrong way when he says that we only care about the interests of the United Kingdom and nothing else. I’m not saying that we’re doing everything the right way. Quite the opposite! I belong to those who have demanded reforms for years. We have to voice self-criticism if, for example, the EU institutions are not doing their job properly.”


The front pages of selected newspapers on June 25. Süddeutsche: Europe is shocked! Frankfurter: Dismay in Europe. TAZ: Populists are celebrating and young Europeans are furious. Bild: A black day for Europe.

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