On Christmas Eve - a day for major Christmas celebrations in many European countries, including Germany - the UK Government and EU officials announced the completion of a post-Brexit deal. Four and a half years since the referendum and over three since negotiations began, it comes just days before the deadline. This prevents the disruptions of no trade deal in the New Year, with the focus of the deal on trade and security.
The reaction to the announcement in Germany was fairly mixed. Some outlets such as Die Welt and Der Spiegel took a celebratory approach to avoiding the New Year chaos of no-deal; whereas Süddeutsche Zeitung led with the headline ‘Great Britain pays a hefty price for Brexit’.
German politicians also had their say. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) highlighted the benefits of the EU to warn off other states from following the UK’s lead. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, he said, “I think a lot of people simply took the advantages of EU membership for granted because they are so used to them … but Brexit made crystal clear what advantages the EU represents: Freedom of movement, free trade and the ability to live, study or work wherever one wants."
Initially, Chancellor Angela Merkel was most concerned with ensuring competition between British and EU companies was fair, even suggesting Germany would accept no deal if this was not ensured. However, the deal commits both sides to common policies and legal guarantees to prevent the UK luring companies away from the continent with subsidies, environmental and social standards undercutting those of the EU.
Subsequently, Merkel expressed her confidence in a “good result”, describing it as “of historical importance” for the future of an important international partnership. Furthermore, the Presidents of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and the Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research, Mannheim both described the outcome as a relief for the stability and security of the German and European economies.
However, as ever, some corners of authority in Germany were less optimistic about the situation. Brexit representative Member of the EU Parliament David McAllister of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) asserted that “trading will no longer run as smoothly” between Germany and the UK, as he underlined the inevitable changes due to Brexit.
What are the main changes & agreements?
Trade arrangements were the main topic of this deal, with the agreement of free trade with no tariffs or quotas between the EU and UK the focal point. Despite this, EU & UK exporters and importers will face increased bureaucracy, new customs paperwork and random goods checks.
The guarantee of the so-called ‘level-playing field’ between EU and UK firms, ensuring fair competition between German and UK firms, to Merkel’s satisfaction.
For individuals travelling to Germany from the UK for longer than three months, a visa or permit will now be required. And with free movement over, even harsher criteria will be put in place for German & EU citizens migrating to the UK, including an income threshold.
As a member state of the EU, Germany will remain in cooperation with the UK on areas of mutual interest: climate, energy, security, intelligence and transport, according to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
German students studying in the UK and British students studying in Germany will no longer be able to benefit from the Erasmus program. Instead the UK will replace it with their own worldwide ‘Turing Scheme’.
Fishing was another key aspect of the deal, with the EU giving up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters.
The UK Parliament overwhelmingly passed the deal on 30th December. This means that it now only faces unanimous approval from the remaining 27 EU states, which is expected in January. After that, the deal will become practice from 31st January 2021, when the UK takes another big step in its post-membership relationship with the EU, a step it remains the first and only ever state to attempt.