Merkel’s 27 April speech to the Bundestag: full translation

Following reports of last week’s Juncker/May dinner (see Monday’s blog), there has been renewed interest in Angela Merkel’s speech to the German Parliament (Bundestag) the day after. So I’ve translated it in full below.

The bits I’ve highlighted in bold are particularly striking in relation to Brexit. But the speech – quite short by Merkel’s standards – is worth reading in full if you want a reminder of what a speech by a stateswoman (or indeed by a grown-up) looks like.

“Mr President, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen!

Let me, before I begin, give a warm welcome to the representatives of Tunisia, as I remember fondly that I was able to speak in the Tunisian parliament a few weeks ago. We wish Tunisia every success in its work and on its difficult but so far very hopeful journey.

Colleagues, on Saturday the European Council – that is, the future 27 Member States – will meet in Brussels to focus on Great Britain’s exit from the European Union. The exit negotiations in the next two years will surely be demanding, for the EU as well as for GB itself. That is, I believe, completely beyond doubt. But it’s also beyond doubt that these exit negotiations will by no means be the only challenge that Europe has to overcome in the next two years.  So please allow me first to say a few words about developments in Turkey.  The situation there cannot go unaddressed in this debate, and it will certainly not go unaddressed at our meeting on Saturday, although I must point out that any official business relating to Turkey must be dealt with in the Council with all 28 Member States, because Great Britain is still a member of the EU with all the rights and duties that go along with that.

First of all: naturally we respect the right of Turkish citizens to decide freely and democratically on their own constitution. I believe that goes without saying for us. However, it’s with even greater concern that we must take into account the joint report of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on how the referendum was conducted. I would like at this point to thank the MPs who took part and also the leader of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Link, for their important work. Great significance must be attached to their assessment because it originates from independent observers.

The Turkish government must let itself be judged by this report and must answer the questions it raises. The criticism in the report that the two sides in the referendum campaign did not have equal opportunities is as serious as the observation that fundamental democratic rights were restricted under the state of emergency. We will watch very closely how Turkey explains any irregularities.

The same applies to the further steps that the Turkish government takes to implement constitutional reform and how it cooperates with the Council of Europe. This also applies to the comprehensive monitoring procedure that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe agreed on Tuesday. The severe reservations expressed by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, with regard to the process and substance of constitutional reform, carry a lot of weight. Turkey must take account of these reservations – as a member of the Council of Europe, as a member of the OSCE, and as a candidate for accession to the EU. It is – to say this unambiguously – incompatible with a state founded on the rule of law, when an executive – in this case the Turkish executive – prejudges cases, as has clearly happened for instance with Deniz Yücel. The German government will continue to insist, again and again, that the rule of law is upheld, not only in relation to his fate but in relation to the many criminal proceedings in Turkey as a whole, and that this includes freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

It is beyond doubt that the developments of the past week have put a severe strain on the German-Turkish and the European-Turkish relationship. We will make every effort to return to a constructive German-Turkish and European-Turkish dialogue. The foreign ministers will meet today and tomorrow and at the same time will also get together with the Turkish foreign minister. It would not be in Germany’s nor in Europe’s interests for Turkey to turn away from Europe for good – nor, and I don’t say this lightly, for Europe to turn away from Turkey. Wisdom is called for as well as clarity. And in just the same way – with wisdom as well as clarity – we will debate within the EU what precise consequences we consider appropriate and when; the German government will strive for a common approach with the European institutions.

Colleagues, we were invited to a special meeting of the European Council on Saturday after the UK officially notified on 29 March that it wished to leave the EU. The British government is implementing what a majority of the British voters decided in a referendum a little over 10 months ago. To say it clearly once again: we – Germany and the other EU Member States – did not wish this exit. But we – German and the other EU Member States – respect this democratic decision and are now looking to the future.

With the official notification of the British government, the two-year period has begun. At the end of this period Britain’s membership of the EU will end, as stated in the treaties. It is now up to us, the future 27 Member States and the European institutions, to define our own interests and objectives for the approaching negotiations. The European Council will take the first step towards that on Saturday and the 27 will adopt joint guidelines for the negotiations.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has – after intensive preparations, in which the German government has of course participated – presented a draft text, which we think is very good and balanced. I would like to thank Donald Tusk warmly for that, for this draft not only takes account of the concerns of the 27 Member States, but also the over-riding interests of the EU as a whole. The many conversations I’ve had in the past weeks have shown that there is now a great measure of agreement on our common negotiation stance towards Great Britain. We can therefore assume that the European Council will send out a strong signal of unity the day after tomorrow.

The European Council’s guidelines will form the basis of the mandate for negotiations, which the 27 Member States will deliver to the European Commission in a further step expected at the end of May. This mandate will be significantly more extensive than the guidelines that we will agree on Saturday. However, I must emphasise particularly that I share the expectation of the Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, that the real political negotiations will get under way – and can get under way – only after the British parliamentary elections on the 8 June. The EU will be represented in these negotiations by the European Commission and its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

I have from the beginning been keen that, during the whole negotiation process, all important decisions should be taken only with agreement of the Member States. That is naturally the case – this is the position of the whole German government too – and that is also guaranteed, because the exit of a Member State from the EU touches the interests of all other Member States.

For us there are three priorities at the centre of the negotiations:

Firstly: the interests of our citizens – German citizens – must be safeguarded. In particular that involves quite concrete every-day questions that are preoccupying the many individuals directly affected by Brexit. It applies quite specifically to those who currently live as German and European citizens in Great Britain. We estimate that means at present approximately 100,000 Germans, all with individual life histories and quite personal worries about an uncertain future.

Consider for example a female pensioner, who perhaps moved years ago for professional reasons from Germany to Great Britain, bought a house there and is now confronted in retirement with considerable legal uncertainties. Or consider a young student who is living the dream of a borderless Europe and is now worried whether, after the university studies he’s already started in Scotland, he will be able to stay in the UK. Or consider a German couple living in London, whose children have grown up in Great Britain, and who are dependent every day on access to school, work and sickness insurance.

Many other examples could be given. They all mean that the German government will work intensively in the negotiations with Great Britain, in the interests of all affected German citizens, to obtain clarity on all these questions and certainty so they can make plans. We will naturally do everything to minimise any potential negative consequences on the every-day lives of our citizens. On the other hand we are of course also prepared to make a fair offer to British citizens living with us in German and in other EU Member States. They are of course an important part of our community and should remain so.

Secondly: the damage that could be caused to the EU as a whole, if GB does not transition successfully to its future status as a third country, must be averted. Businesses for example want to know whether they will be able to continue to market their products under the new conditions. Scientists ask whether they will be able to continue their collaboration with their British colleagues. Therefore legal certainty must be established in advance on the consequences of exit. Where our interests demand it, we will of course strive for close cooperation between the EU and GB also in the future. That applies for example to the common fight against terrorism and organised crime, or cooperation on security and defence policy. But at the same time, while cooperating in this way we will always take care to preserve and strengthen what has been achieved by European integration. I am firmly convinced of that. The EU will, even after GB has left, continue to be a unique community of values and one of the strongest economic zones in the world.

Thirdly: the cohesion of the EU 27 must be strengthened. Less than a month ago we celebrated in Rome the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaty. On this occasion all participants once again expressly recognised how unified we are and how very fortunate this is for us. 60 years of European integration are a unique success story, and this success story will continue to be written with the future 27 Member States.

I am confident that we, the 27 Member States, will continue to stick together on all difficult issues, as we have so outstandingly succeeded in doing since the British referendum 10 months ago, because after all we have managed, despite sometimes having different interests, to remain united and unanimous. It was far from clear, on the morning after the British referendum, that we would manage to do that, and we should expressly recognise that too. All 27 Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament have stuck to what we agreed then.

We have had no pre-negotiations with GB, we have not given priority to any single issues in advance; instead we have as the EU prepared ourselves well for the negotiations and have coordinated closely among ourselves. There are of course a multitude of specific interests. We only have to consider the Republic of Ireland and its common area with Great Britain, or the problems in Northern Ireland. Therefore it was a good achievement to stick together in this way. As a result we are today excellently prepared both in terms of substance and organisation.

I particularly welcome the fact that the resolution of the European Parliament on 5 April is based on exactly the same substantive approach that we want to agree the day after tomorrow in the European Council. But such concerted action is essential because we must embark on very complex negotiations between the EU and GB, which not only the European Council but also the European Parliament must eventually approve.

In the 44 years of GB’s membership of the EU, a dense web of connections has developed, which must now be disentangled bit by bit. As part of that, all the financial obligations must be dealt with – commitments that GB has entered into as an EU Member State, and that also extend into the period after exit. We are of the view – and I must add, I hope that there will be support for this – that these negotiations cannot be left until right at the end, but are one of the important aspects that must be discussed right from the beginning.

The sequence of our plan of action, then, is clear, even if it won’t always be easy to stick to it: we can reach an agreement on GB’s future relationship only when all exit issues are satisfactorily settled. So that means: the quicker the British government is prepared for constructive solutions, the sooner we can address its wish to discuss the future relationship between the UK and the EU already during the exit negotiations. But we must first know how GB envisages its future relations with us. It can and will only go in this order, not the reverse. This is the sequence that the 27 Member States will observe and insist on.

Without progress on the many open issues around the exit, including the financial issues, it makes no sense to negotiate in parallel about details of the future relationship. The European Commission, with Jean-Claude Juncker at its head and its chief-negotiator Michel Barnier, has made this position clear again and again. Jean-Claude Juncker, together with Michel Barnier, was in Great Britain just yesterday and set this out yet again. On this the Commission has the full support of the German government. Moreover it’s also clear: a third country – and that is what GB will be – cannot and will not have the same rights or possibly be better-off than a member of the EU. On this too all 27 member states and the EU institutions are united.

Colleagues, perhaps you think this goes without saying. But unfortunately I have to spell it out so clearly here, because I have the feeling that some in Great Britain are still deluding themselves about it. But that would be a waste of time.

Of course there must be a balance between rights and obligations in the future relationship between GB and EU. If GB is willing, nothing should stand in the way of a close and long-term partnership with the EU. In any event, we – the EU – are striving for good, close and trusting relations with GB. We also have an interest in a prospering and successful UK. In a word: we will conduct the negotiations fairly and constructively, and expect exactly the same from the British side. Our goal will always be to achieve the best result for Europe and its citizens. That’s how we will conduct the discussions as the EU27, and that’s how we will hopefully conclude them successfully.

Of course over the next two years the parliaments will play an enormously important role. The regular exchange between each national government and its respective national parliament will in my view be decisive if the negotiations are going to reach a conclusion that holds. The German government and the German parliament will handle this within the context of its normal close cooperation. I would particularly like to emphasise how much moral support the German government derives for these demanding negotiations from Parliament standing by in this spirit of cooperation. Therefore I welcome it enormously that the German Parliament has prepared a motion in support of the guidelines, which is expected to be passed today and which is based on the same substantive approach that the government also supports and that we want to agree on Saturday in the European Council.

Mr President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, we are conscious of the size of the task, and above all of its complexity. We are well prepared, but it will still require a lot of work. Our goal is to continue writing the success story of the EU. To be able to live well in Germany and in the EU, that is and remains the goal that leads us. We know that times are altogether challenging. The crises and conflicts in Europe’s near neighbours are too severe, too profound and too diverse, and the global challenges are too great – flight and migration, hunger – if we consider Africa right now – and need, the challenges of world trade, and of climate change, are too great for Europe to afford the luxury of spending the next two years preoccupied only with itself – regardless of Brexit.

We, the 27, want to assert our values and our interests worldwide in the future too. We want that for the benefit of the citizens of this great, unique community of values. It concerns them, our citizens, the 450m citizens of the future union. It concerns the quality of our life together in Germany and in Europe over the coming years and decades. This is why I am asking for your support.”

[I was very pleased to see Tim Fenton making use of this translation in his blog (Saturday 6 May) to demolish the Daily Mail’s report of Germany’s policy on Brexit.]

7 thoughts on “Merkel’s 27 April speech to the Bundestag: full translation

  1. Thanks Judith. it’s interesting that the speech includes the line that “we can reach an agreement on GB’s future relationship only when all exit issues are satisfactorily settled.” The famed Article 50 says that “the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union”. There may be semantics at play here – later in the same section, Merkel does talk about settling the exit conditions so that the future relationship can then be discussed in the context of the exit negotiations – but Article 50, in English at least, might seem to describe a more integrated conversation. The interpretation issue to my mind is whether it is the agreement that must take account of the future relationship (Merkel), or the withdrawal arrangements (May). Eats shoots and leaves?


    1. Seems clear from numerous sources and article 50 that “taking account of the framework of a future relationship” does not mean that future relationship has to be agreed first. A framework is not a finished thing – it is the structure on which you build the finished thing. Article 50 has only to take account of this structure (in whatever state it is) – it doesn’t have to wait on that structure being built. If the UK wants to have a firm structure in place for consideration it needs to get a move on – and move beyond empty rhetoric.

      We are the ones leaving the EU. We are the ones asking to negotiation a new relationship. The EU is quite within its right to say, yes we’ll negotiate but here are the terms.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s