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EU View On Germany's Coalition Talks And Brexit Terms


The European Union is being tested. The U.K. is working out terms of its Brexit. And Germany, which is seen as a stabilizing force in Europe, is at a crossroads this morning. Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged empty-handed from talks to form a new coalition government, which is raising the possibility of fresh elections in Germany. Here to discuss all this is David O'Sullivan. He's the ambassador of the European Union to the U.S.

Ambassador, thanks so much for coming in this morning.

DAVID O'SULLIVAN: My pleasure - good morning.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask you first about Germany. Angela Merkel can't seem to form a coalition government. It may lead, as we noted, to another election if she can't make this happen. How do you read what is happening in Berlin right now?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, it is the news of the day as you say. I honestly think it's premature to speculate what might happen next. I know that forming coalitions is not probably something which American listeners are very familiar with, but it's part of daily political life in Europe. It has its ups and downs. And sometimes these talks hit difficult points as has happened in Germany. But we need - I think we need another 24 or 48 hours to see how the political situation develops before we can draw any conclusions.

MARTIN: As you know though, Merkel is in this spot in large part because of her position on refugees and immigration. She opened up Germany's borders at the height of the refugee crisis. That fueled the rise of this far-right party in Germany, the AFD. Immigration was also at the core of the Brexit vote. I mean, how do you reconcile the increasing power of those movements with the broader set of European Union values?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think immigration is an important issue though, of course, the Brexit situation was different from that of Germany. In Germany, it was refugees and asylum-seekers from outside Europe. Within the United Kingdom, it was a debate about intra-European mobility, people from within the European Union. So two very different types of immigration.

MARTIN: Do you think a party like the AFD in Germany has a home in the European Union? Does a party like that make the EU weaker or stronger?

O'SULLIVAN: I think we need a plurality of politics in the European Union. I'd much prefer that people's political views get expressed through the democratic process than on the streets or in other ways. So, yes, I think we need all political views represented in a democracy. But I would point out that the AFD got 13 percent of the vote. The vast majority of German voters did not support the policies of the AFD.

MARTIN: I want to turn now to ask you about the Brexit. There is an important deadline coming up in these negotiations. Can you lay out for us what the EU wants in this separation deal?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, we have been very clear that firstly we would, in many ways, wish that this was not happening. We would wish the United Kingdom would have chosen to stay with us, but we respect their decision. And the process, which has been mapped out, is that there are three gateway issues which need to be resolved before we can move to discussing the future relationship. That's the issue of European citizens living in the U.K., and EU - and British citizens living in the rest of the EU.

The situation of the possible impact on Northern Ireland and the Irish border and the issue of a financial settlement - these are three issues which need to be resolved in the first phase of the negotiations before we can move to the second phase, which would be the future arrangements as well as any transitional arrangements. So unfortunately, we're not quite there yet on those three issues. And that's what needs to be discussed over the next two weeks.

MARTIN: What is the biggest sticking point when you think of those three issues? Which one has proven to be the most problematic?

O'SULLIVAN: I think the issue of the rights of citizens is - we're making good progress on. There are still some questions. But I think the sense is good progress. I think on the issue of Northern Ireland, the British government has not yet been able to provide sufficient clarity about how we would avoid the return of a hard border in the island of Ireland, which would be potentially very damaging to the peace process. And on the issue of the financial settlement, we're still looking for greater detail from the British government.

MARTIN: You're convinced this is going to happen, though.

O'SULLIVAN: I hope it will happen, but more movement is needed.

MARTIN: David O'Sullivan, ambassador of the European Union to the U.S. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.