Merkel Warns Britain Against ‘Illusions’ About Post-‘Brexit’ Ties

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She did not mention the May 7 presidential runoff election in France, though she and other European leaders have made clear that they back the independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European Union former banker and economy minister, over the far-right populist and nationalist politician Marine Le Pen, who has threatened to try to pull France out of the European Union and the euro currency.

“I don’t think it’s a specific Macron thing,” said Guntram B. Wolff, director of Bruegel, a think tank in Brussels. Europe’s message to France would have been the same if the defeated center-right candidate, François Fillon, were to face Ms. Le Pen instead of Mr. Macron, he said.

Mr. Wolff added, however, that European leaders should also be leery of overemphasizing the costs of abandoning Europe. “That is a very precarious message, which ultimately will not work,” Mr. Wolff said. “You cannot sell Europe on the feeling that leaving is painful.”

It is customary for Ms. Merkel to go before Parliament ahead of important European meetings to outline her stance. On Saturday, leaders of the 27 countries that will remain in the European Union after Britain leaves are scheduled to discuss their negotiating position with Britain.

Britain, in turn, will hold an early election on June 8 that Prime Minister Theresa May has called to try to get a stronger mandate for her Conservative Party before the negotiations.

In reality, however, talks between Britain and Europe might not become seriously detailed until Germany holds its own elections — in which Ms. Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union will seek a fourth mandate from voters — in late September.


Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain greeting Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, in London on Wednesday. Credit Hannah McKay/Reuters

On Thursday, Ms. Merkel emphasized that Europe had pulled together in the 10 months since British voters narrowly approved departure from the bloc, a process known as “Brexit,” in June.

“There is great agreement about our common negotiating position towards Britain” after talks in recent weeks with other leaders, she said. “We can thus assume that the council of the 27 will send a strong signal of unity.”

An outsider country “cannot enjoy the same or even better rights than a member of the European Union,” Ms. Merkel said.

Mr. Wolff, a German, noted that, over all, Ms. Merkel stuck to her usual practice of broad statements so she could finesse the outcome as time goes on. That reflects her desire to maintain good relations with Britain — particularly on security issues and trade — and to avoid “a break that leads to major disruptions,” he said.

He added: “The one point where she was very clear, and very strict, was that we first have to finish the negotiations on the terms of exit itself, and only then talk about future relations.”

Sylke Tempel of the German Council on Foreign Relations said Saturday’s meeting, scheduled some weeks ago, was “purposely timed” to fall between the two rounds of the French election. As things stand, it thus has the effect of backing Mr. Macron, who leaders in Germany believe “would be the better result, also for most of the French,” she said.

Ms. Merkel has stuck to her message since the British referendum: that the remaining 27 countries agree on basics, especially the freedom of movement that Britons blame for what many of them see as mass immigration, and that everything else can be negotiated.

“Merkel has said the same, but perhaps a little bit clearer now,” Ms. Tempel said. “It is easier when you know you have people on board.”

There is general agreement that a country “should be a bit less comfortable outside than inside” the European Union, she added.

Like Mrs. May herself, Britain is often described as pragmatic and taking a cleareyed, unsentimental approach toward the coming divorce negotiations. But Germany, too, is pragmatic, Ms. Tempel said — in its insistence on working within the European framework.

“That is a conviction, and not a tactic,” she said.

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