Brussels on Brexit

Our weekly round-up of news from the heart of the EU on reactions to Brexit. The trend is towards sending warning signals to the UK about how hard it will be to get a trade deal....

  • Sir Julian King has been nominated by David Cameron to be the next British Commissioner. He has chosen a career diplomat, who has been British Ambassador to France since February 2016. He has extensive EU experience, having been chef de cabinet for Commissioners Mandelson and Ashton (2008-9), and had two periods at UK Rep (1998-2003, 2004-2008). He is due to have an “interview” with President Juncker on Monday 11 July when it might become clearer which portfolio he will be offered – and which EP committee will grill him.
  • His hearing in the parliament will not be a formality and some MEPs have already suggested his nomination hearing be delayed until the UK has formally triggered article 50 (one of the few ways they have of applying pressure). Press reports said that Cameron wanted him to have the environment portfolio which is currently held by Karemenu Vella. However potential EPP candidate for the EP presidency, Alain Lamassoure (EPP/FR) is on record saying that he should not have a portfolio. “He will have to behave according to the fact that he is tied to a government of a country that is leaving. It is going to be a commissioner without a portfolio”.  It should be noted that an amendment to this effect tabled by the Socialists was voted down by the EP on 28 June in their first response to the Brexit vote.
  • The European Parliament confirmed the transfer of the Financial Services portfolio to Vice-President Dombrovskis after a two-hour hearing in which he stressed that there would be no access to the internal market for goods or financial services without acceptance of free movement of labour. No cherry-picking has become the Brussels mantra.
  • The European Parliament debated the outcome of the Brexit summit, with a good deal of anger that the key players in the Leave campaign – Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – had created chaos with no plan and then resigned. Farage confirmed he will continue as an MEP, if not leader of UKIP, and will help referendum campaigns in other member states.
  • The last minute decision by the European Commission to allow national parliaments the right to veto the free trade agreement with Canada (CETA) has been seen as a warning signal at how difficult it will be to get a trade deal for the UK. National leaders, especially from Germany, France and Italy, had made clear to Juncker that in the current climate it would be impossible to leave it just to the European Parliament to gives its accord. This is seen as yet another example of the power struggle over how to deal with Brexit between the Community approach (backed by Juncker and Schulz) and the inter-governmental approach pushed by the member states.
  • The status of British MEPs is still under review but no formal decisions have been taken to side-line them. The one MEP who did resign as rapporteur, Ian Duncan on the heavily lobbied ETS dossier, has been re-instated following a decision by fellow committee member, pending any horizontal decision taken by political group leaders. Hostility may grow if delays on triggering article 50 continue.

Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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