Insecurity is growing in Brussels ahead of Tuesday’s Brexit talks. John Kerry is even in town. Many questions have arisen. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.
An older gentleman dressed in a dark blue suit, his hair a shock of white, gives off a serious air. He tells the fighting parties not to lose their heads or act on impulse. US Secretary of State John Kerry visited both the European Commission in Brussels and the British government in London on Monday. He was trying to preserve both a strong European Union and the special relationship between the US and Britain.
Kerry, who managed to squeeze both appointments into an already full appointment calendar, appealed to both sides to search for common ground. “The EU and Great Britain continue to share the same values and interests,” said Kerry. Brexit has not changed that. Kerry did not repeat the threat that US President Barack Obama had made during the election when he, while visiting London in April, said that his priority was to come to a trade agreement with the EU first and Great Britain would fall to the back of the line.
In Brussels, both the European Commission and the European Council are working on the assumption that the British government will not move forward on Brexit negotiations before the autumn. A spokesperson for the Commission and negotiators for the Council have rejected Britain’s request to begin informal negotiations about the modalities before the UK gives the official word that would trigger exit proceedings under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
“It is clear that those who voted for Brexit did not expect to win,” said Danuta Hübner, head of European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee. “They do not have a plan and are not prepared.” She rejected British officials’ desire to negotiate a special exception that would allow the country to gain access to the single market without paying dues. The Commission wants to begin the negotiation process as soon as possible, even if the process will be painful.
Officials from some East European member states have criticized European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for his nudging Britain toward the door. The Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek even went so far as to call for Juncker’s resignation, saying he was “no longer the right man for the job.”
“We did not require the referendum,” Juncker’s spokesman said. “When someone should be held responsible for the consequences then it should be those who called for it.”
Still, there’s talk that someone could make a request to relieve Juncker of his duties at Tuesday’s summit. Poland will likely request more time to think things over, and Italian officials intend to ask for immediate negotiations in order to calm insecure markets. EU diplomats envision an interesting summit for sure.
End of English?
Hübner, the MEP, has created a list of all the hard questions that lie ahead during Brexit negotiations. But even the EU has to follow its own laws. One of the more comical anecdotes, according to Hübner, is the future of the English language.
“If Great Britain leaves, English is not longer an official bureaucratic language of the EU,” Hübner told journalists to the astonishment of many. “Ireland and Malta have registered their own unique languages, Irish and Maltese, as their official languages.” No other country had given English as their official language and every country in the European Union is only allowed one language. But Hübner calmed those present by saying that they would surely find a solution, as English had become the main working language in the halls of Brussels.
More important than that is protecting the interests of the more than 2 million EU citizens who live in the UK and the British who live and work in Brussels and across the European Union. The EU elected officials, along with Hübner, a former commissioner for Poland, made it clear that both sides do not yet quite have an idea about what must be negotiated and what actually needs to be pushed through. Hübner said that if need be the EU could force Great Britain to begin the exit process via Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 4, Paragraph 3 says that every member state is required to fulfill his duties laid out in the treaty in a spirit of cooperation so that other member states will not incur damages or be negatively influenced by their actions. “The British not only have a moral duty but also a legal responsibility to begin the proceedings now,” said Hübner.
The Commission, Council and the Parliament are assuming that the procedure for the separation will have two steps. First, the exit agreement will be agreed to and must be ratified by all the national Parliaments of the EU. Only after that can the negotiations about what the relationship to the third party state of Great Britain concerning trade and free movement begin. Chris Grayling, one of the Pro-Brexit ministers in the British Cabinet sees things a bit differently. He would like to begin informal negotiations regarding free trade before the actual Brexit. He would also like to come to agreements about migration even before Britain steps out of the EU.
In the worst case, the EU and Great Britain will head to court as in a divorce. Perhaps they can even sue at the European Court of Justice for the implementation of Article 50. A war of the roses in Luxembourg? EU diplomats are not excluding that possibility that it will go that far.