Baffled in Brussels? Our guide to the last week…

To say that the events of the last week in Brussels have been complicated is like saying that tsuanmis are big waves. Lost in the detail? Read our overview of the week for an easy-to-digest inside track.

A quick summary of where Brussels stands on Brexit following a busy week of activity in Brussels. We expect some relative calm is likely to descend on the Brexit debate in Brussels as EU leaders wait for a new British Prime Minister and the activation of Article 50. With the Conservative Party in the UK likely to conclude the leadership battle by the 9 September, the 27 EU leaders will next meet “informally” in Bratislava on 16 September.

The statement from the 27 following the informal summit on Wednesday sets out the starting point for negotiations and echoes the tone set over the weekend:

  • While it is up to the British government to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw, this should be done “as quickly as possible” ie no indefinite delays.
  • Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law continues to apply to and within the UK, both when it comes to rights and obligations ie a warning to some of the Leave camp who were already talking of restricting free movement or European court rulings before the UK officially left.
  • There can be no pre-negotiations before notification. Jean-Claude Juncker went a step further and said he had imposed a Presidential ban on any Commissioner or senior official holding “secret” talks.
  • The European Council will adopt guidelines for the negotiations – the Commission and EP will “play their role in accordance with the Treaties”. This is veiled language for ‘ this will be a member state-driven process’
  • No cherry picking: The UK will not be able to pick and choose. They cannot have the benefits (ie access to the single market) without the obligations (the 4 freedoms, including most clearly, free movement of people). Angela Merkel stressed that there must be a “noticeable difference” between being an EU member and being outside.
  • The EU must now rise to the challenge and address popular discontent with the EU project. Leaders have started a period of “political reflection” to give an impulse to further reforms and will come back to these on 16 September at their next informal (ie without the UK) meeting.

Unity of purpose among the 27 will not be straight-forward as illustrated by the statements from competing blocs of countries which met before the 28-29 June European Council.

  • The Big Three: Merkel, Hollande and Renzi met in Berlin on Monday 27 June and set out 3 priorities – security (internal and external); a strong economy and social cohesion and an ambitious youth programme. They foresee the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017 as a milestone to reaffirm the European project.
  • The Founding Six: The Foreign Ministers of FR, DE, IT and Benelux, the founding 6 members of the EU, met on 25 June to reaffirm their joint commitment, while acknowledging that there were different levels of ambition among the 27.
  • The Visegrad Four: The PMs of PL, CZ, HU and SK called for a genuine “Union of Trust” where national parliaments had a voice and EU institutions “stick to their missions and mandates”. They also want a Union of action where the EU goes back to basics, moving from a sterile debate between more and less Europe, to focus on “better Europe”.

The EP will discuss the conclusions of the European summit in Strasbourg next week, with Mark Rutte, for the outgoing Dutch Presidency, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and Jean-Claude Juncker for the Commission.


Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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