German foreign minister in London to talk Brexit

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel travels to London today (4 April) to break bread with his British opposite number ahead of the upcoming Brexit negotiations. He has already made clear where his priorities lie. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Six days after the United Kingdom officially kicked off its exit process from the European Union, Gabriel is in the British capital to confirm that “a close EU partnership with the UK” is the ultimate aim.

But the priority remains the “social and economic interests” of the EU and the cohesion of the remaining 27 member states, a spokesman revealed.

The former Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader will meet with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, and Brexit chief David Davis, among others, with this position in mind.

Johnson said ahead of the visit that he is striving for a “deep and special relationship” with the EU.

How deep and special future UK-EU ties will actually be will depend on how flexible London is willing to be during the negotiations.

The post-Article 50 period is already off to a rocky start, with the Gibraltar issue making life difficult from the outset, but Gabriel is gently pushing a “Europe first” approach, which is shared by the rest of the bloc.

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Gabriel’s trip does not come at a bad time for the German economy either. Economic doom and gloom dominated the immediate aftermath of last year’s June referendum result but now positives are starting to emerge, at least on the German side of the equation.

A study by the German economy institute (IW) in January revealed that nine out of ten companies in Germany are nonplussed about potential negative side-effects on their business as a result of Brexit.

Almost a quarter of those asked even said that they are hoping for higher revenues, as companies flee the UK for the EU.

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An Ernst & Young survey also claimed that Germany stands to gain from the UK’s exit. Since the 23 June vote, the attractiveness of Germany as a place to headquarter a company has only increased, according to the consultancy’s findings. One in seven companies active in the UK already plan to invest more heavily in Germany.

With these numbers in his back pocket, Gabriel is likely to cross the Channel with something of a tailwind. Especially against the backdrop of an EU that is struggling to find consensus on serious issues.

“We don’t want any copy-cats bringing the EU into more difficulty,” Gabriel also warned, referring to the prospect of any other member states thinking of heading for an EU exit.

Despite the clear potential for conflict, the foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone ahead of his trip, tweeting last week that he wants the EU and UK to remain friends “even after Brexit”.

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