Berlin's Brexit Blues

A Plan to Keep Calm and Carry On

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, February 4, 2016. Toby Melville / Reuters

Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch, undertook what was, perhaps, her final state visit last year. Of all the places she could have traveled to, she chose Germany, the de facto leader of Europe. The three-day tour was filled with reminders of U.K.-German relations—a lecture on their shared history by the popular historian Neil MacGregor of the British Museum, a speech on U.K.-German business ties in Frankfurt (a financial hub that could benefit from Brexit), and a first visit to the former concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, which was liberated by British troops in 1945. It was a trip that clearly, though subtly, reflected the queen’s position on Brexit: the United Kingdom must remain in the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, has taken a less sentimental approach to Brexit. Since her 2014 speech on U.K.-German relations at the British Parliament, she has more or less kept silent to avoid antagonizing pro-Brexit supporters. She has made it clear that she is not willing to preempt a vote by pushing for fundamental reform of the EU or insisting that the United Kingdom stay.

Only this month did Merkel mention Brexit, but implicitly, warning that countries outside of the union “will never get a really good result” in negotiations with the EU. She also sharply rebuked the most radical elements of the pro-Brexit debate that she believed had led to the murder of Jo Cox, a pro-EU member of Parliament, last week. These statements, however, are less a direct plea to the British and more a reflection of the troubling rise of Euroskepticism and right-wing radicalism in her own country.

Indeed, Europeans are increasingly wary of Brussels’ power. A Pew Research poll shows growing skepticism not just along the periphery. Favorable opinions of the EU declined eight percent in both Germany and the United Kingdom compared to 2015 and there have been double-digit drops in France and Spain. However, there are stark policy differences

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