Time for a German-British Friendship Treaty

Writing shortly after the United Kingdom finally quit the EU on 31 January 2020, Norbert Röttgen and Tom Tugendhat consider the future relationship between the UK and Germany, positing the idea of a German-British Friendship Treaty to foster continued collaboration in the realms of foreign affairs, cultural and educational policy.

More than three years after the referendum, Brexit on Saturday became reality as the United Kingdom formally left the European Union. After 47 years of European integration and being an integral part of a community as tightly intertwined as the EU, this departure not only fundamentally changes the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU. It also requires us to rethink the bilateral relations between EU member states and the UK. While we have different perspectives on Brexit, we agree that it is now time to move on.

Many aspects of our future relationship will be organized at the European level as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. But some issues are bilateral and require stronger direct ties. We think it’s time for a German-British Friendship Treaty, which regulates enhanced cooperation and strengthens our shared values, cultural and educational policy and, yes, our foreign affairs. A treaty would complement whatever the UK agreed with the 27 member states and deepen our bonds.

One of the first consequences of Brexit will be that officials, ministers and parliamentarians from our two countries will no longer regularly meet in Brussels. We need to make sure understanding remains strong and encourages exchange between us. Ramping up our embassy staff and the cultural and educational programmes run by institutions such as the Goethe Institute, the British Council or the German Academic Exchange Service can also change the tone. Irrespective of the UK’s decision on remaining a full member of the Erasmus exchange programme after 2020, we should strengthen direct ties between German and British students and teachers and deepen scientific cooperation between our researchers. Creating new bilateral grants to fund joint projects no longer eligible for EU funding would promote collaboration and could culminate in shared clusters of excellence at German and British universities.

Shared enterprise will boost much more than science and the economy, it will further entwine our values. Germany and the United Kingdom are home to some of the most tolerant and open societies in the world. And yet racism in general, and anti-Semitism in particular, are on the rise in our societies. To counter this we should launch a joint, high profile project that fights intolerance and promotes solidarity. For different reasons, taking a strong stance against anti-Semitism has particular importance for both societies: to Germans it is central to our historical responsibility for the horrors of the Second World War; to Britons forcefully condemning anti-Semitism it is a recognition of the proud history the UK has of providing refuge to Jews fleeing from prosecution and death in Nazi Germany. As important allies of Israel and on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the time to act is now.

Finally, Germany and the United Kingdom have shared interests overseas. Our two countries have stood together on every major international issue, from global trade to the Iran nuclear deal. We both recognise that we share a continent and values which make our security indivisible. Geography and geopolitics are not changed by Brexit. For both of us, security in the Middle East has direct implications for the stability of our own societies, and those of our neighbours. As part of a wider initiative, as Europeans, or within the E3 format alongside France, Germany and the UK will no doubt cooperate in political and military engagements in the region, from working to stabilize Iraq, to helping to support parties trying to bring peace to Libya.

With Britain’s EU membership coming to an end, it is time to look ahead and to create a strong foundation for our future bilateral relations. A German-British Friendship Treaty would provide a framework. It would be the first draft of the next chapter which we will write together.

Norbert Röttgen is Chairman of the Foreigh Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag and a member of the Dahrendorf Forum’s Committee.

Tom Tugendhat is a British Conservative Member of Parliament and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

This piece was originally published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on 2 February 2020 and  The Times on 3 February 2020.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School and London School of Economics or its funder Stiftung Mercator.