Germany says attempts to divide the EU over Brexit have failed

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Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street in London on December 8, 2020 - DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS /AFP
Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street in London on December 8, 2020 - DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS /AFP

On Tuesday, Germany claimed attempts to divide the EU over Brexit, and in particular drive a wedge between Berlin and Paris, had failed before Boris Johnson’s showdown talks with Ursula von der Leyen.

"Efforts to divide the EU on Brexit have failed and will continue to fail,” said Michael Roth, Germany’s Europe minister.

Mr Roth, who was speaking after a meeting of EU Europe ministers, denied that Paris had ever threatened to veto the Brexit trade deal.

“France has not announced a veto, it has simply said all member states will have to agree to a deal. That is nothing new,” he said.

But only hours earlier, Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, told French radio: “We will not sacrifice our fisheries and our fishermen. And the British know that.”

“If we see that the deal is worse than not having an agreement, we will not hesitate, like all other countries can, to reject it.”

He added: “We still have time for negotiations. A few days, at least. After that, we have to be clear to our companies, to our fishermen… and say yes or no, deal or no deal.”

Mr Roth’s comments came after Michel Barnier, the bloc's chief negotiator, briefed the ministers on the Brexit negotiations, ahead of Thursday's European Council summit of EU leaders. 

The heads of the remaining 27 member states could back a negotiated deal, which needs unanimous support to trigger a European Parliament ratification process, at the summit, but time is short. 

The EU's chief negotiator said there was "full unity" between the member states, despite signs of rifts between France and Germany over the talks.

"We will never sacrifice our future for the present. Access to our market comes with conditions," he said in a sign the EU would not drop its insistence on the level playing field guarantees.

EU diplomatic sources have accused Berlin of going soft over fisheries to avoid no deal.

Angela Merkel was accused by sources in Brussels supporting the French position on fishing negotiations as leaning on her ally Mrs von der Leyen, the European Commission president, to go soft.

In recent days, Paris and Berlin have put on a show of renewed unity, with Germany repeating its commitment to ensuring robust level playing field guarantees.

An EU diplomat suggested that most member states were unified on the level playing field guarantees, but not necessarily on fish.

Fishing rights only concern countries dependent on UK waters such as France, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. German boats fish British waters but to a lesser extent.

Poland and Hungary were accused of being wobbly on the level playing field guarantees by sources, who warned that Ireland, the EU country worst hit by a no deal, would be watched carefully for any signs of wavering, the diplomat said.

One EU diplomat said Mrs von der Leyen was taking “too large a platform for herself”, a coded message to the European Commission president not to go easy on Mr Johnson on Wednesday evening.  

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