The UK has voted to start its voyage away from the European Union. It is a momentous decision and one that will affect the future of the UK, the EU and with it, Germany.
I, like many of my peers here in Germany, was greatly surprised by the result. From the polls, and from hope, we didn’t expect Brexit to happen. As I have written here previously, German business values the UK’s position in Europe and not just as a partner with which we trade goods and services. The UK’s position within the EU was one that championed free markets and acted as a check on bureaucracy and excessive regulation from Brussels. This is an extremely important role. Challenge, debate and disagreement are vital if the EU is to succeed. German business already laments the Brexit.
The German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses has voiced real concern that their members will suffer. Anton F. Boerner, President of the Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Service, believes there will be enormous political and economic damage, considering that the UK is Germany’s third largest sales market with a volume of 89 billion euros. Boerner says that the UK leaving the EU means the loss of a strong voice for market economy, which relies on efficiency and competition instead of cheap money and debts. Indeed, Hans-Walter Peters, president of the Association of German Banks, states that a politically united EU, including the UK, is his preference even though he concedes the positive outcome that financial centres on the continent will increase in importance with the UK out of the EU.
Markus Kerber, Director General of the BDI, Germany’s Federation of Industries, stated that the BDI deeply regrets the outcome of this referendum and identified the result as an urgent warning to make the EU more competitive. He urges that relations with the UK will have to start from scratch.
The President of the European Commission has stated that there will be no negotiation without a triggering of Article 50. However, upon compiling a review of what the main German business bodies are saying about Brexit, what’s obvious is that with so much at stake, and so much to contribute, businesses can and must have their say.
Companies, and the membership organisations they work through, are closer to the business needs and issues than the politicians that serve them. They need to have a say on what, from a business perspective, a good settlement will look like. Introspection will only serve to create a vacuum here. We need business in Germany and the UK to work with one another to build that narrative and take a leadership role; to provide evidence; cogent argument and a view of what a successful agreement looks like – and engage with policy makers. Their skills in negotiation must be harnessed. There is no appetite, no time, for schadenfreude.
Written by Peter Rall, Managing Director of Kohl PR, Linstock’s partner in Germany.
To download Kohl PR and Linstock’s full summary of German business reaction to Brexit, please click here.