Merkel, Hollande and Renzi in show of unity over Brexit

Merkel and Hollande in the European Parliament last year. [European Parliament/Flickr]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on Monday (27 June) that EU countries won’t negotiate the UK’s divorce with the European Union until the British government formally notifies them that it will leave.

“The UK must invoke Article 50. Beforehand, no negotiations are possible. There will be no informal or formal discussions before Article 50 is invoked,” Merkel said, referring to the part of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that outlines how a country can leave the union.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he will resign in October and will not formally notify other EU member states while he’s still in office.

UK voters chose to leave the European Union in a referendum on Thursday (23 June), leading to political turmoil in the UK.

Merkel had previously said discussions over Brexit should not be rushed.

But yesterday, she said the EU should avoid a “never-ending game, for the notification and for the negotiations.”

Hollande and Renzi used stronger words to say the UK should hurry up and leave.

“It must be as quick as possible, it’s better for the whole of the EU,” Hollande said.

“Tomorrow and the day after, it’s important that we stick to a schedule as much as that’s possible,” he added, referring to the two-day European Council summit set to start tomorrow.

Merkel was eager to dispel rumours that she had invited Hollande and Renzi to Berlin to decide how and when the UK will have to divorce from the EU.

The three will be joined tomorrow by the 25 other European heads of state and government at a summit in Brussels for first talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron since the UK referendum.

“Three cannot decide anything before the European Council,” Merkel said at a press conference.

The joint press conference was a calculated show of unity across the French-German axis, at a time of unprecedented crisis in Europe.

But divisions remain between France and Germany and inside the two countries as well.


French President François Hollande has met with dozen of people since the Brexit vote, including the government, and all French political parties on Saturday (25 June).

The last time the Elysée did something similar was eight months ago, just after the November terror attacks in Paris. But the situation this time has proved very different, as no unity has emerged from the talks.

On the contrary, the French right is ready to implode around the concept of Europe. Laurent Wauquiez, a previous European affairs minister who now chairs the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, has even called for the European Commission to be ditched.

Other prominent figures like Alain Juppé and Bruno Le Maire and Nicolas Sarkozy do not agree on what path to take.

Sarkozy and Le Maire are both pushing for a referendum to be organised in France, whereas Alain Juppé, the favourite candidate for next year’s presidential election, thinks the idea is “irresponsible”.

Marine Le Pen is strongly arguing for a referendum, and her party, the National Front, has been crowing since British people voted.

Calls to send a strong and political message to European citizens are growing on the left.

“The timing would be good for enhancing a social Europe, we have to find a political way out of this crisis,” Socialist MEP Pervenche Beres said on Friday (24 June) before meeting with the president.

French-German axis

The idea of reconsidering the fiscal stability pact is gaining momentum in Germany. SPD leaders Sigmar Gabriel and Martin Schulz have started criticising austerity policies.

But for the French presidency, the first priority is showing a strong unity with Germany, as a guarantee to the European project.

“For now, the story is this; we are going to show the French-German axis is strong and going forward” a source insisted.

The source pointed out that Hollande and Merkel already had a few telephone calls over the weekend, and were in agreement.

But the two leaders have differences on how to treat the UK.

France insists that leaving must cost the UK, which was warned of the consequences of quitting the bloc.

After Donald Tusk in the morning, European Parliament President Martin Schulz came to have lunch with François Hollande on Monday (27 June) in Paris. Both of them agreed on the need to put pressure on the UK to activate Article 50, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU.

Foreign affair ministers meet

The German and French foreign ministers Frank Walter Steinmeier (SPD) and Jean-Marc Ayrault (PS) met in Berlin on Saturday (25 June).

Both warned that EU member states should focus on security, defence and migration in the future.

The “right answer” to the Brexit vote is “neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection”, said Steinmeier and Ayrault in a joint letter published today, titled “A strong Europe in a world of uncertainties.”

The letter said that Europe was put to the test by “a series of crises in its southern and eastern environment. It is recovering slowly on the path of economic growth.”

The two ministers met in Prague on the same day with their Visegrad counterparts from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, where they called for “better control” of the European partnership and a joint action after Brexit. 

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