Key Players in the BREXIT negotiations in the EU Institutions

Key Players in the BREXIT negotiations in the EU Institutions.


Michel Barnier will lead the high-level political negotiations but will leave much of the technical discussions to the Task Force of 30+ officials that he has drawn from the key DGs in the Commission. Sabine Weyand will be his deputy and comes with a wealth of trade experience from stints with Pascal Lamy as Trade Commissioner and more recently as deputy-director general in DG Trade. Her policy assistant will be Justyna Lasik, another trade expert, who has been involved with negotiations with Japan and South Korea.

A strategy, coordination and communication team is headed by Barnier’s principle adviser Stéphanie Riso. She was deputy head of Oli Rehn’s cabinet when he was Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and head of unit in DG Budgets for the multi-annual financial framework and budgetary aspects of enlargement. Her policy assistant is Marco Abate from DG ECFIN.  Inter-Institutional affairs will be dealt with by Georg Riekeles, a former member of Barnier’s cabinet. His assistant is Tristan Aureau, an auditor from the highest administrative court in France. They will also be assisted by Uku Särekanno, the head of staff and presidency preparation team in the Estonian permanent representation. Legal Affairs will be headed by Eugenia Dumitriu-Segnana, who joins from the Council’s legal service, and relations with think tanks and communication will be headed by Stefaan De Rynck, a former Commission spokesman.

The Task Force is divided into 4 separate units dealing with policy areas. Nicola Pesaresi (state aids, competition policy) will head a unit entitled Horizontal issues, cross-cutting policies and level playing field. He will be assisted by Ward Mohlmann (financial stability), Aurora Mordonu (economic analysis), Tadhg O’Briain (energy and climate, environment), and Thomas Lieflaender (level playing field). The unit on Internal Market and sectoral policies will be headed by Francois Arbault, a former member of Barnier’s cabinet in charge of IPRs. He will be aided by Marie Simonsen (free movement of citizens, employment) and Peter Sorensen (aviation).

The unit on Budget, spending commitments and programmes will be headed by Philippe Bertrand, a former Head of Unit on the budgetary procedure and annual budget negotiator. He will be responsible for dealing with the financial settlement and will be assisted by Bence Toth, (agriculture, fisheries and maritime policy)and Norbert Gacki (budget). Finally, the unit on international agreements and customs will have Antonio Fernandez-Martos, a former head of unit in DG Trade on trade investments, leading on trade and customs. He will be assisted by Nina Obermaier , deputy head of the Swiss unit in the EEAS, who will deal with external relations and CFSP and Stefan Fuehring ,on justice and home affairs, health and food safety (external aspects). He used to work for the Secretariat General on pharmaceutical and consumer goods

Finally, nothing this important passes through the Commission without the approval of Martin Selmayr, President Juncker’s chef de cabinet. He will work to ensure the Commission leads the negotiations rather than national governments. Richard Szostak, a member of President Juncker’s cabinet in charge of Foreign Affairs and Security, will act as the more formal contact point between the President’s cabinet and the Task Force.


Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, will leave the technical details to Didier Seeuws who heads the Brexit Task Force in the Council secretariat. The Belgian diplomat was chosen as an experienced negotiator, comfortable in the world of technical details and the art of compromise. He will enjoy a close relationship with Guy Verhofstadt, having worked as his spokesman when he was Belgian PM. He will also have to work closely with the representative of the rotating Presidency of the Council who will have a seat at the negotiating table. They are likely to divide the roles so that the General Affairs Council and COREPER, both at 27, will be chaired by the Presidency, leaving Seeuws to chair the dedicated working party. For 2017, this would give an important role to the  Permanent Representatives of Malta (Marlene Bonnici) and Estonia (Kaja Tael) , with  Bulgaria (Dimiter Tzantchev) and Austria (Walter Grahammer) taking over in 2018 and Romania being there to conclude the deal in early 2019.  The Presidency representative will also brief the EP before and after each General Affairs Council meeting.


Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the EP and a former Belgian Prime Minister, was appointed as the EP’s coordinator on Brexit back in September 2016. In April 2017 when the EP adopted its resolution setting out its main red lines for the negotiations, political group leaders decided to flank Verhofstadt with a steering committee made up of leading members from the various political groups, emphasising that it is the political group leaders (particularly Manfred Weber (EPP/DE) and Gianni Pittella (S&D/IT)  that will control the agenda. Weber is already on record saying the EP will be a “very difficult partner” in the talks and defend European rather than national interests. 

The steering committee is made up of veteran German MEP Elmar Brok, (EPP/DE) who is close to Angela Merkel and Roberto Gualtieri (S&D/IT), Chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee. They formed part of the trio of MEPs, along with Verhofstadt, to act as observers during the negotiations led by David Cameron to find a pre-referendum deal. They will also now accompany Verhofsatdt in the preparatory “sherpa” meetings . The smaller groups are represented on the steering committee by Phillipe Lamberts (Green/BE) and Gabrielle Zimmer (GUE/DE), with no place for the Tory-led ECR group or the Eurosceptics.

Completing the line-up is Danuta Hubner (EPP/PL) the former Polish Commissioner and current Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO). Barnier and Verhofstadt will report back regularly to AFCO, where the key members include Paulo Rangel (EPP/PT) , Mercedes Bresso (S&D/IT) and Richard Corbett (S&D/GB). Corbett’s stint in the cabinet of Herman van Rompuy when he was President of the European Council, will give valuable insights into the workings of the Council secretariat.

EP President, Antonio Tajani (EPP/IT), is likely to be less involved than his predecessor, Martin Schulz, but he will have the right to address the European Council before their meetings to defend the EP’s position.

EP officials will not enjoy the same up front role as in the Commission and the EP’s position will be driven by the MEPs. Verhofstadt will be aided by his long-standing right-hand man, Guillaume McLaughlin and Nick Lane, the Director for Interinstitutional Affairs. Allessandro Chiocchetti will be the contact person for Brexit in President Tajani’s cabinet.

Although he will have no official role in the talks, one cannot underestimate the potential influence of Nigel Farage on the whole process. The former UKIP leader will be the first to accuse Theresa May of backtracking on her commitments and will continue to attract media attention throughout the talks.


Kieran O’Keeffe

Deputy Managing Partner, EU

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *