In a short statement to Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel reported on government discussions following her meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Berlin on Tuesday, ahead of the European Council meeting in Brussels in the evening.
She confirmed the position set out by Council President Donald Tusk for another extension but with conditions to prevent any disruption to the EU's program or operations. Merkel said there was a need to find a solution.
"It may well be a longer extension than the one the British prime minister asked for," Merkel said, adding that while an extension should be as short as possible, "it should also give us a degree of calm, so that we don't have to deal with the same topic every two weeks."
"That's why I'm advocating, if there's a large majority for it today [at the summit], that we can very well make the extension run for several months — but without dragging anything out. Instead, the exit should be possible as soon as the UK has decided [on how it wishes to leave]."
June or longer
May had asked for Friday's exit to be deferred until June 30, but a longer period until the end of the year or until March 2020 is preferred in Brussels. The option would allow the UK to leave as soon as it came to an agreement with the EU and it could not be changed by the next UK government leader if May steps down.
This would mean the UK taking part in the EU elections in May and committing to "constructive engagement" with the bloc, but not being involved in EU budget talks or in choosing the next president of the EU's executive commission.
"The United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardize the attainment of the Union's objectives," according to the EU draft of the summit conclusions.
The 27 EU leaders will hear May present her strategy for Brexit on Wednesday evening before discussing it over dinner in her absence.
She will then be told the EU's decision by summit chairman Donald Tusk.
jm/msh (Reuters, AFP)