To the relief of many, the European Commission today said the UK had agreed on a Brexit Withdrawal text and had finally made ‘sufficient progress’ in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations. They will thus recommend that the European Council begins transition and trade talks. But what does Europe actually make of it – was this another classic EU fudge or something more substantive? Below is a snap roundup of the reactions of European leaders, media outlets, and business leaders.

EU reaction

As always, President of the European Council Donald Tusk became slightly sentimental, whilst also warning the hard part of the negotiations is not over

For European Parliament President Antonio Tajani the agreement is a “good basis” for the three key withdrawal issues to be fully solved

Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, welcomed the development

What did the papers say?

Ireland

In a comment piece in the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole says the agreed UK-EU text shows that

Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit… Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen…The deal secured by Ireland does not necessarily force the UK to stay in the customs union and single market. It just forces it to act as if it has stayed in – a distinction without a difference. Call it what you like – if it acts like a customs union, moves like a customs union and is fully aligned like a customs union, it is a customs union. But this, of course, is precisely why this deal is not just the beginning of the end of the Brexit talks. It is potentially the beginning of the end of Brexit itself. If the deal sticks, the dreams of a clean break, of throwing off the shackles of EU regulation and sailing off into the great blue yonder of Empire 2.0 are over …If Britain is not making a clean break, what is the point of breaking up with the EU at all? Ireland has just pointed its neighbour towards one obvious answer to that question.

Also in the Irish Times, Cliff Taylor argues,

There is now a real question about whether the British Prime Minister can square the circles in what she has signed up to – and actually keep her government together as the talks progress. You don’t have to look too closely at the text to see the difficulties ahead for the UK as she tries to balance the different wings of her own party and the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up Ms May’s administration…On the paragraph of Ireland  of course this is a fudge. All sides have signed up to something, but nobody is clear how it will be achieved. The contradictions may yet provide insuperable problems for the UK government. But Ireland has achieved significant assurances here which will be valuable as the talks go on, or even if they collapse.

France

French Le Monde writes about “The ample concessions of Theresa May”, claiming,

Put under a back-breaking ultimatum by the European Union, Theresa May conceded on the key points that had remained unresolved…[She] suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the European Commission, not just on the divorce bill – €50 billion instead of the €20 billion initially accepted – but also on Ireland and the competence of the European Court of Justice, even if the Europeans have conceded on this point as well.

On the Irish border, the newspaper comments, “The compromise on Ireland is the type of ‘constructive ambiguity’ cherished in the EU. It does not, for good reason, solve the insolvable Irish equation.”

Le Point unpacks “The challenge to Theresa May’s logic.” The newspaper writes,

Theresa May embarks on a dangerous exercise of tightrope walking in her attempt to solve the Irish question…Her six commitments [on Ireland] are, in reality, completely contradictory […] In the end, nothing is solved.

Looking ahead, the newspaper concludes,

It is without doubt with the future establishment of a UK-EU agreement as close as possible to the status quo, that the question of the two Irelands will be solved. At stake: nothing less than maintaining peace in Ireland.

 Germany

The financial daily Handelsblatt sees “Relief over the Brexit breakthrough”, saying that the two sides might not be “in the mood for champagne” but they appear “visibly relieved that they finally managed to agree upon the fundamental elements of their divorce contract.” It continues,

In practice, it is now likelier that a disorderly Brexit without a divorce agreement will be prevented. They seem to have averted the danger of a sudden breakdown in the movement of people and goods between [the UK] and the Continent on 29 March 2019.

Separately, the paper comments on the financial settlements, saying,

The threats from London were empty: British politicians didn’t want to pay a penny to the EU. Now May must give in to all financial demands from Brussels. However, the EU doesn’t want to name a sum.

According to Die Welt,

As the small print of the Brexit compromise makes clear that both sides are yet to be faced with the real challenges…The Europeans are tired of the chaos in the British Tory government. It’s still not clear what Brexit should look like… In reality, May’s cabinet is as divided as ever on [the question] of what Brexit will look like.

In Der Spiegel, the focus is on the complexity of the upcoming negotiations. In an article entitled “It’s all starting now”, it says,

The talks will not get any easier – on the contrary. Important questions were not resolved in any way; they were just put off until the second phase of the negotiations.

“Brexit will not become easier,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes, adding,

Finally there is a first deal in the negotiations between the EU and the UK… But the problems are only just starting now…Whether the EU will remain as united [in the second stage of negotiations], is to be seen. Until now, all 27 member states had the same interests; this will be different regarding a deal of future relations. Especially economically strong nations such as the Netherlands or Germany have different interests than Greece or Bulgaria.

Business

German business groups were relieved but cautious following today’s agreement. Eric Schweitzer, President of the German the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) which speaks for more than 3 million entrepreneurs in Germany, commented,

The agreement between the EU and the UK is a delayed Santa Claus present for the German economy. This consensus now clears the path for those topics that are most pressing for businesses…There is much at stake for the German economy.

Joachim Lang, CEO of the Federation of the German Industry, cautioned:

The hardest part of the negotiations still lies ahead of us. Industry needs clarity on the future relationship at the earliest opportunity. The negotiations have to step up a gear. London must not have any false illusions. Our businesses must know soon what model Downing Street envisions for the future deal and what the transition phase on the way there will look like.

Reactions appear to be a mixed bag, while EU officials seem to be tentatively positive – the media on the Continent view the agreement as Theresa May conceding in the end. We will follow the commentary on the Continent once the agreement has had a little longer to be digested.