BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany wants to do all it can to conclude negotiations with Britain on its future relationship with the European Union by the end of this year, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Friday.
“Together with the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, together with the Commission, we will do all we can to bring to a positive conclusion by the year’s end the further negotiations with the United Kingdom,” Altmaier told reporters.
“We agreed that this (Brexit) offers a big opportunity - despite the melancholy one feels - to strengthen and reform the European Union,” Altmaier added at a joint news conference with Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for internal markets.
The United Kingdom formally leaves the EU at 2300 GMT on Friday, a move supporters of Brexit see as the country regaining full control over its destiny and which opponents say is a big setback for peace and prosperity in Europe.
Britain will then enter a transition period, when current EU rules and regulations will remain in place while the two sides negotiate a new relationship on a wide range of issues from trade to security.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out extending the transition period beyond 2020.
“We will represent European interests and we want a good relationship with Britain. Those are the two key points of our approach,” Altmaier said.
“We will speak with one voice, we will ensure that vital European interests are respected and we will ensure that what we agree applies evenly to both sides so that there is no cherry- picking,” he added.
Of the negotiations on the future relationship, Breton added: “We are not starting again from zero. I think the British know the rules very well ... that facilitates things a lot.”
Reporting by Paul Carrel; editing by Thomas Seythal; Editing by Gareth Jones