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European Leaders Grant Britain More Time To Leave The EU


Europe and the United Kingdom are still together, though not happily and not perhaps for long. After an eight-hour marathon meeting in Brussels, European leaders gave British Prime Minister Theresa May another chance to avoid crashing out of the EU - for now, at least. They say the U.K. can stay in the EU until May if and only if the British House of Commons agrees to an exit plan next week - something they have rejected twice so far.

For more on the European perspective on the Brexit impasse, we are joined now by Norbert Rottgen. He is the chair of Germany's Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: Good morning.

MARTIN: It has been two years-plus of negotiations over Brexit. Theresa May has tried several times to get Parliament to approve a deal, and they have not. So do you think it was right for the EU to grant this extension? I mean, is any more time going to make a difference?

ROTTGEN: Yes because it's a kind of double-track approach we have decided to take now. First of all, what we have made really sure is that the Brexit drama will not infect the European elections, which are due to be conducted at end of May. So we have protected the integrity of the European elections, irrespective of how Britain is going to deal with Brexit. So this was very important.

And the double-track approach means that the one option is if Britain is to pass the deal next week in Parliament, then they can and will stay until end of May before the European elections in order to get through the ensuing legislation. But then they will be out, so this is a clear way for them.

If they don't pass the deal next week - which I personally expect more likely that it will not happen - then they have a shorter period of extension until April, 12 of April. And then they again have an alternative - either they request for a longer extension, but then they will have to take part in the European elections. If they are not ready to do that, then they have to leave without a deal.

MARTIN: What is the impact on Germany? I mean, you're the chair of Germany's Foreign Affairs Committee. Manufacturing hubs in Germany are likely to be hit by a no-deal Brexit. I mean, what are the stakes from your perspective?

ROTTGEN: There is a huge majority in Germany that considers Brexit to be a disaster because it means a weakening of both Britain and the European Union in a time of geopolitical turmoil. So we want to keep united and - in order to get stronger and be strong. And Brexit means a partial unravelling.

So we consider this at all to be a disaster. To have - to see Britain leave without an agreement, crash out, would increase the disaster politically and economically. So we want them to stay in, perhaps call their people, ask their people again, do you really want to leave now, when you know what Brexit means? If you're sure about leaving, let's do it in an orderly way. This is our German position.

MARTIN: In a way, does this process, as difficult and intractable as it has been - does it serve the European Union? I mean, is it a cautionary tale for other member states that may be considering leaving the EU?

ROTTGEN: This is one aspect, but it's a minor aspect. Yes. Everybody sees now what does it mean to do it - to go it alone. It's not for the better, neither of the country affected - of the respective country, nor of the European Union. However, the damage is much bigger than this educational aspect of Brexit.

MARTIN: Norbert Rottgen is a member of Germany's Parliament. He's the chair of Germany's Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thank you so much for your time, sir.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.