EU and British negotiators say the first day of negotiations on Britain's departure from the European Union was productive in outlining the program ahead and setting out the first challenges to settle, especially the rights of citizens living on each other's territory.
Both EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Davis said they were heartened by the first day of talks on Monday and insisted the tight deadlines were tough but achievable.
Barnier said there was agreement that the negotiators would first look at citizen's rights, the outstanding bill Britain must pay for previous EU commitments and the Irish border issue. He said once there was sufficient progress on those, the talks would start looking at the EU's new relationship with Britain.
Davis said both sides were "off to a promising start" even though the challenges ahead were daunting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she hopes for a "good agreement" after Brexit talks in which 27 EU countries will listen carefully to what Britain wants but also defend their own interests.
Britain on Monday finally opened negotiations with other European Union nations about leaving the bloc.
Merkel said Monday: "I think it is premature to speculate on the first day of the negotiations how they will end."
She added: "I hope that we will reach a good agreement. That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together."
Merkel spoke after meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who also stressed the 27 EU countries' unity. He noted the EU wants to discuss divorce terms before moving on to the shape of its future relations with Britain. He said he views the talks with "informed optimism."
A top German business lobby is urging negotiators for Britain and the European Union to quickly come to an agreement over how Britain's departure from the EU will affect cross-border trade - and avoid a "hard Brexit."
The Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, known by its German initials VDMA, says that that goal of the two-year negotiating process is "damage limitation" because Brexit won't benefit either side.
VDMA managing director Thilo Brodtmann said in a statement that "the EU and Great Britain must absolutely avoid being left without an agreement in two years."
The association represents 3,200 businesses with a million employees in Germany making industrial machinery. Such firms sold 7.3 billion euros ($8.2 billion) worth of goods to customers in Britain last year, their fourth-biggest market.
U.K. negotiator David Davis says that Britain has gone into Brexit negotiations looking for a "positive and constructive tone" to deal with the myriad issues dividing both sides.
Reflecting on Britain's longtime EU membership, Davis says that "there is more that unites us than divides us" despite the June 23, 2016 referendum in which Britain decided to break away from the 27 other member nations.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier said the negotiations which should lead to a breakup by March 2019 "must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit - first for citizens, but also for the beneficiaries of the EU policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland."
The head of the biggest group in the European Parliament says that what Britain wants out of the Brexit talks is a mystery as negotiations get underway.
European People's Party caucus leader Manfred Weber told German radio station Bayern 2 Monday: "Our big problem is that we have no picture, no idea at all what the British want." He said that the other EU countries have a united position but the British are "in chaos."
He added: "It's not as if Europe is leaving Britain; Britain wants to leave the EU. They should finally tell us what the aim is. We keep hearing that they don't want a 'Norway model,' they don't want a 'Swiss model,' they want to leave the customs union, the internal market, they want to limit migration. We keep hearing only what they don't want, but we don't have any picture of what future relations will look like."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday he still thinks that the Brexit negotiations will yield "a happy resolution that can be done with profit and honor for both sides."
The negotiations kick off in Brussels on Monday with Britain under pressure for stalling the talks and entering the negotiations without a working parliamentary majority fully in place.
Still, Johnson called on people to look at the more distant future. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg he said: "The most important thing for us is to look to the horizon, raise our eyes to the horizon. In the long run, this will be good for the U.K. and good for the rest of Europe."
A senior German official is stressing that the EU doesn't want to punish Britain for leaving, but says its departure will not be good for the U.K. or the rest of the EU.
Germany's deputy foreign minister, Michael Roth, told RBB Inforadio that "we must of course protect our interests as the EU 27 but naturally we also don't want to punish Britain."
Roth said that "Brexit is a very, very difficult operation" and there's only a bit over a year to negotiate it. He added: "Brexit won't make anything better, but it will make a lot of things more difficult. And we want to try to solve the difficult things as well as possible."
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