The British miss Theresa May

A simple rule of thumb applies to difficult negotiations in Brussels. The compromise is found at the very last minute, if necessary the clock is stopped. Is it the same with Brexit? The negotiations are not proceeding as if they were about the fate of 28 states. The working level meets. Then a nearly 600-page document is fabricated. Is that the "white smoke" you had hoped for? Not with such a procedure. Not in view of the state of the negotiations. The British government members have almost 24 hours to read almost 600 pages. The Brexiters have already declared: They will not go along with it, "under no circumstances". Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks of "slavery". And from EU circles it is said that there was a lack of confidence in "more" compromises.

When will the EU heads of state and government take the helm? When will you prepare the crucial element that will allow both sides to come to an orderly UK exit? The latest deliberations go like this: Great Britain should remain in the customs union, initially until a solution to the Irish question has been found. That is European finesse in its purest form. A marshalling yard is being built for the British, which could turn out to be a dead end. And at the same time shows the Swiss and all other rebellious partners where to go. Always follow the EU's nose. No, it doesn't look like the Gordian knot should be cut yet. The scenario for the final is more than unpleasant.

The obstacles stand around on both sides. So far, Theresa May has nothing in London that satisfies the various groups in her own party and also the coalition partner. The tough Brexiteers consider everything to be treason that does not meet the core demands of the Brexit campaign. The Northern Irish coalition partner cannot and will in no case accept a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On the EU side, the problem is that it is a delicate political task to unobtrusively come down from the basic stipulations that have accumulated so much after the 2016 referendum that there is little or no leeway. In Brussels, the pragmatic approach was spurned from the start. At first we were happy that the British were finally disappearing. When that had subsided, it could have been decided that now that the accident happened (not entirely without the shared responsibility of the entire EU), a solution that was sensible for both sides would have to be sought. But no, they preferred to set up dogmas. Firstly, something like this must not happen again and secondly, something like this must by no means be "worthwhile" for those who want to quit. How could something have been worthwhile that we are deeply convinced that it does harm?

The Commission's EU negotiating strategy was driven by fear that the British might find imitators. And it has traits of post-mapping. This is not only incomprehensible, but also dangerous. For the EU. Nobody should lie to themselves: Both a disordered and an orderly Brexit will very soon create serious problems in bilateral relations and in multilateral contexts. The one voice with which the EU wants to speak in international forums will be much weaker without the country with the most experienced diplomacy in the EU, Great Britain. In the relationship between the EU and the USA, which can become a central issue for the future, the mediating and balancing force that Great Britain represents will be sorely missed.

Can you still find a solution that will limit the damage as much as possible? Looking at the main obstacles, it should be clear to any rational being that a solution to the Irish border question cannot be found until the final nature of the EU-UK economic relationship is clarified. What is definitely not possible would be a solution that tears Britain apart politically. And: Anyone who presses the British into an EU corset that is too tight today is forfeiting any chance that they will come back voluntarily. Especially since after all the plans known so far, the decision on the future shape of the relationship is postponed. How can one reasonably separate if the basic principles of how to deal with them later are not clear?

The EU should finally accept that the UK will be a third country after leaving, albeit a particularly close partner. From our relations with Turkey, we know what points of friction arise when a country has to take over European trade policy one-to-one without any say. That is convenient for the EU, but deeply undemocratic.

In its trade policy towards third countries, the EU is always interested in comprehensive free trade. Just think of Canada or Japan. In these agreements there is neither free movement of persons nor automatic jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in disputes. There are in the European Economic Area (EEA). The EU has written the competence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) into the association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. However, there is no free movement of persons in these countries. "Cherry picking" of the EU? But only the British do that, claims the EU and indignantly rejects any "cherry picking" - my suggestion for the bad word of the year.

Again, why should the UK deny something that is allowed to other, if not all, third countries? The argument that the integrity of the internal market must be preserved sounds nice, but it is an advanced one.

The EU cannot be interested in a political crisis in Britain. Nor can it have any interest in severely harming itself through a hard Brexit. But it still seems like everyone agrees that only the British will suffer. Not everyone sees this with regret, which brings me to a fundamental point: The EU is a voluntary association of peoples and that requires its members to respect decisions made by individuals. Even if it is hard.

The way in which the separation is carried out ultimately decides whether a trusting and good partnership can succeed.