Negotiating Brexit: what do our negotiating partners want?
In the UK debate, it is sometimes forgotten that the result of the current negotiations will not be decided only in London, but that the positions taken by governments of the remaining 27 member states, as well as the EU institutions, will be important in shaping the final outcome. ‘Negotiating Brexit: national governments, EU institutions and the UK’, brings together specialists from across Europe to form an observatory that will monitor approaches to the Article 50 negotiations and examine the issues surrounding the UK debate about its EU membership more broadly.
The project, which is funded under the ESRC’s ‘Brexit priority’ scheme and closely associated with its ‘UK in a Changing Europe’, launched its first publication at a conference on 20 October at the British Academy. It asked:
• How much progress have the negotiations made? How likely are the negotiations to succeed, and what are the possible outcomes?
• How important is Brexit to other national governments and the EU institutions? How are they preparing? Do they see the UK’s departure as a matter for regret, an opportunity, or both?
• How do they view the principles that were adopted by the European Council in the wake of the UK referendum? Do they think that the unity that has been demonstrated hitherto is likely to hold, or will it dissolve when and if the talks move to the UK’s future trading relationship?
Several distinguished keynote speakers offered their perspectives throughout the day. Former Foreign Secretary of State, Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, opened proceedings, arguing that a success needed to be made of the negotiations, identifying areas of common interest, and urging former Remainers to give their support to Brexit. Professor Anand Menon, Director of UK and a Changing Europe, and Lindsay Appleby, Director General at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office -- under tough questioning from ITN’s National Editor, Allegra Stratton -- gave their assessments of the state of negotiations so far.
Their positive assessments were challenged by two later keynotes. Jean-Claude Piris, Legal Counsel of the Council of the EU and Director General of its Legal Service from 1988 to 2010, argued that the UK had failed to inform or prepare public opinion either for the process of withdrawal or for the costs that would inevitably accompany its new status as a third country. He highlighted that a transition period that offered the ‘full Monty’ would benefit both sides, as well as business. Chief Advisor to the EU Brexit Negotiator, Stefaan De Rynck, meanwhile, offered a forensic analysis of progress in the negotiations so far.
Members of the research team presented their analyses in a series of panels. Hussein Kassim discussed the approaches taken by the European Council and the European Commission, and emphasized how closely they were working together. In Brussels, as in national capitals, there had been shock and regret at the outcome of the referendum, but not surprise. A premium has been placed on containing Brexit through an early declaration of the EU’s approach, conducting ‘business as usual’, and looking to the EU’s future.
Christian Lequesne reported that Brexit aroused little interest in France, except in so far as it was a distraction from President Macron’s project for EU reform. Eva Heidbreder emphasized the importance that Germany placed on EU solidarity and the need to ensure that any final deal for the UK will not be on better terms than those available to continuing member states, while Ana-Lena Högenauer discussed the opportunities, especially in the financial services, that Luxembourg perceived arising as a result of the UK’s departure.
Brigid Laffan highlighted the damage that Brexit was likely to visit on the Irish economy, underlined the seriousness of the Irish border question and the apparent intractability of finding a satisfactory solution, and argued that London had not so far not demonstrated any understanding of its special responsibility to Ireland. Salvador Llaudes challenged the view that Spain sees Brexit largely through the prism of Gibraltar. He pointed to the strong trading links between the UK and Spain, and to the large communities of Britons in Spain and Spaniards in the UK. Calliope Spanou, meanwhile, emphasized that while Greece would be sorry to see the UK leave the EU it remained secondary to the broader concern of relations with the remaining members. Highlighting the UK’s position as the instigator of Brexit, Simon Usherwood described how London had been slow to put together a coherent negotiating position and that the UK’s planned destination remained hazy and ill-defined.
If the UK had hoped to find Eurosceptic allies in Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, Robert Csehi, Natasza Styczyńska, and Petr Kaniok suggested it would be disappointed. Although in Hungary and in Poland governments had used Brexit for political capital, neither was using it to lever concessions from Brussels, still less to mobilise support for an in-out referendum. For both countries, the protection of their nationals in the UK was the prime concern. In the Czech Republic, meanwhile, Petr Kaniok observed that politicians were mainly using it as an opportunity to show that their country could be a ‘team player’ in Brussels, instead of simply an obstruction.
The reports on Denmark, Sweden and Lithuania also revealed commonalities. Ramūnas Vilpišauskas stressed the concerns in Vilnius about the collateral impact on Europe’s security architecture, despite the UK’s promise to remain closely involved with NATO and EU-run activity. Mads Dagnis Jensen on Denmark and Mats Braun on Sweden indicated that although Copenhagen and Stockholm were losing a close ally, there was little prospect that either would follow London down the same path.
Overall, whilst national governments and EU institutions were sorry that the UK would be leaving the EU, EU solidarity was a higher value. The strong indication was that national capitals would continue to adhere to the principles announced by the European Council in the wake of the UK referendum, and would resist any attempts at ‘divide and rule’ or ‘cherry-picking’ by the UK.
Watch the videos: The European Institutions; France, Germany, and Luxembourg; Ireland, the UK, Spain and Greece; Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic; Denmark, Sweden and Lithuania. Download ‘Negotiating Brexit: what do the UK’s partners want?’, which also includes chapters on Austria Italy and Norway.
'Negotiating Brexit: national governments, EU institutions and the UK’ is led by Professor Hussein Kassim at the University of East Anglia and Dr Simon Usherwood at the University of Surrey. Find further information about the project on our websites.