Germans sceptical of Brexit deadline delay

Another Brexit extension has been given to the UK, but the German public remains skeptical as to whether the new deadline will lead to any genuine change.

Germans sceptical of Brexit deadline delay
The EU, Britain and Germany flag fly in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The EU has now agreed to delay Brexit until the end of October following a tense summit on Wednesday.

Before the decision was made, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the press she believes the UK should be given a “reasonable amount of time” to ensure they “exit the EU in an orderly fashion”. But the view on the ground in Germany is somewhat different. 

However, few Germans think that the delay will lead to any sensible conclusion to the 'Brexit mess', while others can’t see an end in sight, according to recent polls.

READ: Why Germany struggles to understand the issues at heart of Brexit

Kicking the can down the road? 

While the view in some sections of the UK is optimistic that the extension may lead to a greater degree of consensus, the view is not shared in Germany. 

In a poll conducted by ZDF-Politbarometer in the lead up to the original Brexit deadline of March 29th, 2019, the German public were not optimistic about the outcome. 

Three-quarters (73%) of respondents predicted – apparently correctly – that the outcome would be further delays, while 14 percent thought the outcome would be a disorderly (i.e. a no deal) Brexit. 

As for the potential for the delay to improve outcomes for both the UK and the EU, the Germans surveyed were similarly pessimistic. Two-thirds (67%) felt that a longer Brexit delay would be bad, while only one-quarter (25%) considered a further delay to Brexit would be a good outcome.

Chart translated for The Local by Statista.

‘Getting ready to jump’

Political scientist Bernd Hüttemann, who serves as the Vice President of the European Movement International, said that the decision to delay the deadline was largely in the interests of both the EU and Germany – although the longer-term consequences are unclear.

“A delay doesn’t surprise us because many stakeholders are happy that we don’t have to see the real consequences of a real Brexit,” he said. 

“Everyone knows that a no-deal Brexit would be harmful.”

This led to relief – a feeling which was most likely shared by many on both sides of the Channel. 

“It’s like in life, when you are getting ready to jump – you really have to jump – but then you don’t have to jump,” he said. 

‘Schadenfreude? No, I’d say more like Fremdschämen’

Overall, Hüttemann said the view in Germany was that British institutions – formerly viewed positively – had lost legitimacy. 

“People are really surprised,” he told The Local. “For a long time people thought the British way of politics was a good one. Unlike other parts of European politics which were seen as bureaucratic and boring, British politics were seen positively,” he said. 

“British politics have lost tremendously in the eyes of the German public. They’ve now fallen behind the European Union in terms of credibility. Now Brussels seems to be much more reasonable than London, which is very odd in Germany.”

Hüttemann said the feeling towards Brexit was not one of Schadenfreude – the German word for taking pleasure in the misfortune of others – but one of Fremdschämen – or the embarrassment felt for someone who has embarrassed themselves.

SEE ALSO: German word of the day: Fremdschämen

“Do you have a word for Fremdschämen in English? No? Well that’s why you have Brexit,” Hüttemann said.

Hütteman agreed with the assessment of London’s Financial Times which said the ‘conventional’ German view is that Brexit is “a stupid mistake which will cost the UK dearly”.

However he said that while the reaction of British institutions to the Brexit process has been surprising, the outcome of leaving the EU was in some ways predictable given the politics of the UK, which often uses Brussels as a “scapegoat”.

German attitudes to the EU? 

Aside from a decreasing view of British parliamentary legitimacy, Hütteman says that the major result of Brexit in Germany has been a tightening of ties with the EU – which will have an important impact on upcoming European parliament elections. 

“Because of Brexit, the opinion polls towards the European Union are very high. The opinion polls are very clear that while people are not always happy with European integration they see it as a solution rather than a threat,” he said.

“For many stakeholders there is a much higher support for the EU than previously. Overall there was never a better feeling (towards the EU) and it’s all thanks to Brexit.”

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