Tuesday 17 September 2019

EU stronger after Brexit - head of Germany's BDI

Chief of Europe's biggest employers' group backs the backstop and says UK and Ireland will be hardest hit

Mr Lang, who’s visiting Dublin today and tomorrow, said that the UK had been an important member of the EU, particularly in helping to hold it to account (stock photo)
Mr Lang, who’s visiting Dublin today and tomorrow, said that the UK had been an important member of the EU, particularly in helping to hold it to account (stock photo)
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The United Kingdom and Ireland are destined to be the biggest losers from Brexit, but the European Union will emerge stronger after the UK's withdrawal from the bloc, according to the director general of Germany's powerful industry federation, BDI.

While there has been a hope in the UK among Brexiteers that German industry, especially carmakers, will push Angela Merkel's government to soften exit terms, the comments highlight how business there is already looking beyond Brexit.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Joachim Lang said that he believes Germany's corporate tax rate should be cut to between 22pc and 25pc to ease the burden on the country's businesses.

READ MORE: EU warns no way to avoid 'disruptive' border checks in Ireland if no-deal Brexit happens

"It will make us stronger," said Mr Lang of the remaining EU members once the UK leaves. "If there is one positive thing that we all learn while dealing with the Brexit issue it is how well this works for us, to be part of the European Union.

"It really doesn't make sense to leave that. Maybe the marketing of the European Union needs some improvement, because we all learned a lot while we were dealing with Brexit. We learned how good this well-integrated business area works for us."

Mr Lang, who's visiting Dublin today and tomorrow, said that the UK had been an important member of the EU, particularly in helping to hold it to account.

READ MORE: Brexit chaos: No election, no crash-out and 'no extension'

"Of course, the United Kingdom was never the most prominent supporter of the European idea, but it was a member and it was always a critical member with constructive ideas," said Mr Lang.

"I remember that we had times when it was difficult to criticise Europe because whenever you criticise something that was really truly to be criticised, people looked at you as if you were not a good friend of the European Union," he said. "So it was really difficult to mention something negative… and sometimes it was good to have someone who could really mention it."

Mr Lang, whose association represents about 100,000 German businesses with more than eight million employees, said that the backstop agreement to retain an open Border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is an important aspect of the UK withdrawal process.

He predicted that the UK will be hit badly in the coming years as more companies leave.

READ MORE: Irish Sea border plan proposed in secret UK papers

"The medium-term damage is going to be seen when the companies make decisions, when they leave the United Kingdom," he said.

"We've seen some early movers, but there are more to come when the value chain breaks down. This is going to have an impact next year. Then, we'll have long-term damage because we will miss one strong member in the European Union."

Mr Lang will deliver a speech at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin tomorrow.

In that speech, he's set to focus on a number of issues, including Brexit, trade conflicts and the decarbonisation of German industry.

Mr Lang said that a global slowdown hits Germany more than any individual bilateral trade spat. "The German business model is completely adjusted to a free world market order," he said. "So, if this is being affected by a trade conflict, then we will feel that stronger than others. The Brexit impact is an additional one in times where nobody really needs that."

A hard Brexit - which looked destined to be the most probable outcome on the UK's planned October exit date - was sensationally cast into doubt this week, with British MPs revolting in Parliament against the prospect.

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