Standort: / Meldung: "1 letter, 2 years and 20,833 loose ends"

29. 3. 2017 - 12:56

1 letter, 2 years and 20,833 loose ends

Negotations for Brexit are formally launched

After months of speculation, jubilation, disbelief and confusion - Britain is finally triggering article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will begin the formal two year process of the UK leaving the European Union.

Teekanne mit der Aufschrift "Now Panic and freak out" vor dem Union Jack

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John Cummins spoke to Politico's Ryan Heath in Brussels to find out where the EU takes it from here.

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John: What happens after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter is delivered to Brussels?

Ryan: The letter will be delivered by the British Ambassador to the EU to Donald Tusk, who’s the European Council President - the man who convenes and manages all of the national leaders for summits every couple of months. He will respond, essentially say thank you, we regret it but we acknowledge that you’re making this move. And then he’ll get all of his ambassadors and their assistants together to come up with a legal mandate – a set of permissions for a man called Michel Barnier to go and start negotiations with the British. And all of that is going to take several weeks. So we’re not really going to see any serious negotiations until at least May, possibly early June.

Once we get to mid-May, how will those negotiations work? Will we see teams of negotiators working on different topics and then reporting back? What’s the process going to look like?

It’s going to start with one group at the beginning and then fan out. The EU, at least for now, has a very hard line. They say you have to figure out what Britain owes when it leaves the EU and we have to agree on what the rights of EU and UK citizens are in each other’s territory before we start to work out the future relationship. Now, of course, you can’t expect Britain to agree on those first two points until they get a sense of where the future relationship is going. And so that is when you will start to get these working groups, maybe 10 to 12 different subject areas, that will start working in parallel. It will be teams of diplomats working in different rooms, trying to figure out what the future relationship is. And then, hopefully, every few months we’ll get status updates and we’ll be able to say, okay, this set of issues has been agreed upon. If that doesn’t happen, that’s when markets, companies and others will start to get nervous, and you’ll see calls again from people saying - do we really want this Brexit to happen in the UK.

How involved will the EU member states be in the negotiations? Will they be giving input and getting regular updates, or will they just let the negotiators do their job?

No, it’s going to be tightly controlled by the national capitals I would say. At a very basic, operational level, Michel Barnier and his European Commission team will have a lot of latitude, but they’re going to be on a very specific leash. And every couple of weeks or so those national ministers and ambassadors are going to come back in and check – is this the same leash that we agreed to two weeks ago and are things going the way we want? At the end of the day if the national capitals aren’t happy then you don’t have a functioning EU and that is why they will effectively be in the driver’s seat most of the way.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a wide range of opinions about how these negotiations should proceed – some want Brussels to take a hard line, others are saying, no, a conciliatory approach would be better. How much unity can we expect from EU member states, particularly if, down the track, these talks start to drag on without much progress?

It’s been surprising so far – I would have expected more disunity. The fact that the EU is having a sensible discussion about what it wants to look like after Brexit, the fact that it was able to sign this Rome declaration, even with a couple of complaints about the drafting process along the way, has been surprising. It’s not what we expected to see – Theresa May more on the back foot over Scotland and Northern Ireland than the EU. So the EU comes into this with a bit of an advantage but obviously they have the tougher gig as well. They have to keep 27 member states together, Theresa May needs to keep just 4 different devolved administrations and the central government together. So the EU is going to have to fight very hard just to stay on an even keel.

Could all that change in September, if we have different governments in Berlin and Paris?

Yes, if you had a Marine Le Pen government (in France) then all bets are off, everything essentially goes back to the drawing board about the whole EU, as well as the Brexit negotiations. Of course if you had (centrist French presidential candidate) Emmanuel Macron and (German SPD leader) Martin Schulz in power, then you have a very different dynamic. You have possibly more impetus for the remaining EU members to push ahead, as fast as possible, on completing the single market. Don’t forget that the EU is based on this myth of a single market – everyone talks about it, everyone believes in it, and it’s there about 50 percent of the way – but it’s never been completed, even after 30 years of effort. So it’s going to take a big push from capitals like Berlin and Paris if you really are going to make that single market worth its name.

Looking into your crystal ball Ryan, will we have a deal in two years’ time?

I think we’ll have a divorce but I’m not sure we’ll have a complete deal. I think there is a bit of naivety here that you can tie up 20,833 loose ends, that’s the number of laws and regulations that the EU has passed since Britain joined. You just can’t sort that out – at a rate of 40 a day – between now and then. So there will have to be some kind of transition deal. There will probably be a bit of a cliff edge in some sectors where they don’t even have time to figure out a transition deal. And we’ll see a lot of people realising that all of their beautiful rhetoric doesn’t match the reality of that two year timeline.