Saturday 23 September 2017

Brexit negotiations after Florence speech

Friday 22 September 2017, the think tank CEPS started a new series of Future of Europe meetings with a talk by Martin Selmayr, the head of president Juncker’s Cabinet. The evening before, the president of the European Council (EUCO) Donald Tusk had invited the heads of state or government to discuss how to organise their work regarding the substance, method and objectives of EU reform and the future of Europe, when the EU27 leaders dine ahead of the Tallinn Digital Summit.  

However, despite the daily chores, plus the EU reform and future of Europe agenda, the EU27 face the prolonged UK withdrawal process since the EU referendum 23 June 2016.

Florence speech  

People dependent on English media saw little else concerning the European Union than the Florence speech, where the UK prime minister Theresa May asked for a two-year extension of parts of membership after 29 March 2019 - thus ending before the next general election 5 May 2022 - and a “creative” new EU partnership excluding membership of the customs union, the single market and the European Economic Area (EEA), as well as skirting the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada as a model. - To pay one’s dues (also during an extension) is hardly a new opening, but an obvious obligation.

Orderly withdrawal?
The day before the Florence speech, the EU27 chief negotiator Michel Barnier had spoken  about an orderly withdrawal and the expectation of clear commitments from the United Kingdom on the initial issues - EU citizens, financial settlement and Ireland - before moving on to a possible transition period as part of a potential  withdrawal agreement SPEECH/17/3404.  

Soon after May’s speech, which offered little clarity on the requested issues, Barnier published a statement repeating the demands ahead of the fourth round of Brexit negotiations STATEMENT/17/3427.
Monday 25 September, after the other agenda items, the General Affairs Council (EU27) has an opportunity to take stock of the Article 50 TEU Brexit negotiations and the implications for the European Council meeting 19-20 October 2017.

Come Tuesday, EUCO president Tusk is going to meet prime minister May in London.

Florence speech reactions

Any deal requires agreement by the EU27 member states and the European Parliament. Instead of the UK-centric debate, it may be more important to sample reactions to the Florence speech from the point of view of the 450 million people set to remain in the single market (EEA) after Brexit, all too easily forgotten by British media and politicians.

Many in the EU are disappointed. May seems to have spoken primarily to her own people and party, Welt N24 assessed, also reporting that Moody’s had downgraded the UK’s credit rating.
The German press reactions Focus has compiled are hardly impressed.

Europeans greeted May’s conciliatory tone, but were left hungry, is the summary of RFI.

The haziness persists. The silences are going to be studied more closely in the chancelleries than the promises, Le Point concludes.

All talk and no action, commented Roberto Castaldi in Il Tirreno.  

Among Brussels based media, Politico Europe summed up the EU verdict as good, but not nearly enough.
The quick analysis from Fabian Zuleeg (EPC) about the insufficiency of May’s Florence speech is worth reading.

Ralf Grahn

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