Shortly after the result of the referendum was announced in late June, the German Federal Chancellery (“Bundeskanzleramt”) commissioned the Foreign Office (“Auswärtiges Amt”) to form a task force. According to the government, the German Brexit task force consists of high-level senior officials from all Federal Ministries and the Chancellery. Its task is to monitor and analyze all topics related to the Brexit process and to prepare the expected negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK).
Officially, the Federal Chancellery instructed the Foreign Office only “to clarify the technical details” of Brexit. The overall control lies within the Federal Foreign Ministry under the lead of Vice-Chancellor and new Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The panel is under the Europe Department of the Foreign Office, which is headed by Director-General Martin Kotthaus. According to internal information, although Kotthaus is well informed about all aspects of Brexit he will mainly focus on the fragile EU-27 format, which is considered the priority issue. Therefore his deputy, Peter Ptassek, will be more deeply involved in the internal Brexit discussion. Ptassek, a highly experienced diplomat, leads the panel. He is in charge of fundamental European issues and strategic co-ordination in Kotthaus’ department.
It is expected that Ptassek will take the following point of view in the Brexit debate:
- A positive result of the referendum vote is that the EU has received a lot of public attention. Similarly, in the light of Brexit, the significance of EU-membership will become clearer to the public.
- Over the last decades European politics has fortunately freed itself from diplomatic formality. Today decisions are mostly made through rhetorically intense negotiations, which could also determine the tone of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
Since summer 2015, Uwe Corsepius has been the chief advisor for European policy at the Federal Chancellery. Prior to that he was the Secretary-General at the Council of the European Union and chief economic advisor to Chancellor Merkel. Insiders describe him as Merkel’s most loyal and influential executive, who enjoys a large degree of freedom when it comes to the European policy of the German government, but who also limits his influence to strategic and technocratic considerations. In early 2016, Corsepius had already participated in the first meeting with representatives of the remaining 27 EU member states in Brussels.
Although Christoph Heusgen has been the Head of the Department for Foreign, Security and Development Policy for over a decade – and a close aide on Foreign Policy to Merkel – he has not been significantly involved in European Affairs in the past. Therefore the importance of his role in the Brexit debate remains to be seen.
A number of different federal ministries are also involved, for example the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF). The head of the responsible subdivision at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is Rudolf Lepers, who is under the Department for European Policy, headed by Claudia Dörr-Voß. So far their imprint has not been visible. Within the Federal Ministry of Finance, Thomas Westphal is the Head of the responsible Department for European Policy.
According to information about internal considerations of the task force, different adjustments of the EU-budget are considered:
- Mechanics of the EU-budget remain the same, which would imply a much higher burden for Germany
- UK share is simply subtracted from the budget, which would decrease the overall budget but would not imply any additional burdens for any member state
- Overall net-dues of the UK are re-allocated among member states in order to have a constant budget, which would still imply a comparatively high burden for Germany