BRUSSELS IN THE AGE OF BREXIT

Presently am working in Brussels as a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a top think tank where I first guested in 1992 (!).  Have project going (with Megan Dee of U of Stirling) on EU decision-making, with books to do for Palgrave and Oxford University Press.  The project aims to ‘refresh’ findings from an earlier study of the subject out in 1999, which after all was nearly 20 years ago.

Living in the UK, one would think that Brexit must be taking up all the ‘political oxygen’ in this city.  But it isn’t.  Most of the exit negotiations have been delegated to a (small) task force of the EU Commission with Michel Barnier (former French Foreign Minister) as its head.  That way, the UK has been unable to ‘pick off’ sympathetic member states, or those with particularly strong links to the UK, from collective EU positions.  Virtually everyone who I have spoken to here thinks that Barnier and his team – led by the formidable Commission official Sabine Weyand (who studied at Cambridge) – has performed remarkably well in difficult circumstances.

Things have changed a bit since the negotiations moved to a ‘2nd phase’ (start of 2018).  The first phase focused on the UK’s budget contribution, rights of EU citizens, and Irish/UK border – in other words, the terms of ‘divorce’ – on which agreement was reached in December (although Irish border question was fudged).  That was the easy part.

Now we’re into talks on future EU-UK relations, which are much more complicated and contentious.  Theresa May is walking a tightrope leading a very divided cabinet that includes strident pro-Leavers such as Boris Johnson as well as Remain backers like Philip Hammond.  The EU 27 will have far more difficulty staying united in phase 2 and member states are already deviating from the company line in subtle or not so subtle ways on, say, the City of London, air transport – the company that owns British Airways is registered in Spain – or future trade relations (Ireland obviously wants as little change from status quo as possible).

I met with a senior EU official working on Brexit this morning.  The last thing he told me was of Theresa May telling Barnier last year ‘I hope we can count on you to make these negotiations successful’.  Barnier apparently responded:  ‘we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that’.  In other words, the EU can’t offer the UK too good a deal for the simple reason that it wants to do nothing that might tempt other member states to leave.

But the main story here is that Brexit isn’t that big a story.  The EU is just getting on with other things on biz as usual basis.  They include closer defence cooperation, agreeing a budget for 2021-7 (tough as UK was net contributor), new free trade agreements with Japan and Vietnam (and an upgraded, modernised one with Mexico), cyber-security, a ‘war on plastic’, and so on.  Not only do the worker bees just keep working.  Brexit – combined with the renewed confidence that comes with economic growth – seems to have energised the EU.

One myth that I’ve exploded during my time here this year is that most EU types are glad that the UK is leaving since it won’t be around to block things as it did in the past (on, say, EU defence).  But that’s entirely wrong.  Most people here feel sad and even depressed about Brexit.  Most British EU officials are – in my experience – very able.  Whitehall remains much admired across Europe.  And Brexit is a collective EU problem, especially for the more liberal EU states that trade most with the UK.

A lot of people here have asked me:  Maybe the UK could change its mind?  Could there be a 2nd referendum?  Possibly if the current government falls?  I tend to agree with my friend Richard Corbett MEP that there are about 10 different scenarios for the UK that all have about a 10% chance of occurring.

But I also think Brexit is a political fact and that reversing it would take a miracle.  Dommage.

 

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BRUSSELS IN THE AGE OF BREXIT

Brussels in the age of Brexit

Presently am working in Brussels as a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a top think tank where I first guested in 1992 (!).  Have project going (with Megan Dee of U of Stirling) on EU decision-making, with books to do for Palgrave and Oxford University Press.  The project aims to ‘refresh’ findings from an earlier study of the subject out in 1999, which after all was nearly 20 years ago.

Living in the UK, one would think that Brexit must be taking up all the ‘political oxygen’ in this city.  But it isn’t.  Most of the exit negotiations have been delegated to a (small) task force of the EU Commission with Michel Barnier (former French Foreign Minister) as its head.  That way, the UK has been unable to ‘pick off’ sympathetic member states, or those with particularly strong links to the UK, from collective EU positions.  Virtually everyone who I have spoken to here thinks that Barnier and his team – led by the formidable Commission official Sabine Weyand (who studied at Cambridge) – has performed remarkably well in difficult circumstances.

Things have changed a bit since the negotiations moved to a ‘2nd phase’ (start of 2018).  The first phase focused on the UK’s budget contribution, rights of EU citizens, and Irish/UK border – in other words, the terms of ‘divorce’ – on which agreement was reached in December (although Irish border question was fudged).  That was the easy part.

Now we’re into talks on future EU-UK relations, which are much more complicated and contentious.  Theresa May is walking a tightrope leading a very divided cabinet that includes strident pro-Leavers such as Boris Johnson as well as Remain backers like Philip Hammond.  The EU 27 will have far more difficulty staying united in phase 2 and member states are already deviating from the company line in subtle or not so subtle ways on, say, the City of London, air transport – the company that owns British Airways is registered in Spain – or future trade relations (Ireland obviously wants as little change from status quo as possible).

I met with a senior EU official working on Brexit this morning.  The last thing he told me was of Theresa May telling Barnier last year ‘I hope we can count on you to make these negotiations successful’.  Barnier apparently responded:  ‘we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that’.  In other words, the EU can’t offer the UK too good a deal for the simple reason that it wants to do nothing that might tempt other member states to leave.

But the main story here is that Brexit isn’t that big a story.  The EU is just getting on with other things on biz as usual basis.  They include closer defence cooperation, agreeing a budget for 2021-7 (tough as UK was net contributor), new free trade agreements with Japan and Vietnam (and an upgraded, modernised one with Mexico), cyber-security, a ‘war on plastic’, and so on.  Not only do the worker bees just keep working.  Brexit – combined with the renewed confidence that comes with economic growth – seems to have energised the EU.

One myth that I’ve exploded during my time here this year is that most EU types are glad that the UK is leaving since it won’t be around to block things as it did in the past (on, say, EU defence).  But that’s entirely wrong.  Most people here feel sad and even depressed about Brexit.  Most British EU officials are – in my experience – very able.  Whitehall remains much admired across Europe.  And Brexit is a collective EU problem, especially for the more liberal EU states that trade most with the UK.

A lot of people here have asked me:  Maybe the UK could change its mind?  Could there be a 2nd referendum?  Possibly if the current government falls?  I tend to agree with my friend Richard Corbett MEP that there are about 10 different scenarios for the UK that all have about a 10% chance of occurring.

But I also think Brexit is a political fact and that reversing it would take a miracle.  Dommage.

 

Brussels in the age of Brexit

Welcome to the EU: How Does it Work? 4th edn blog!

Welcome to our blog!  We’ll try to update it regularly as the academic year goes on, especially as we know that courses will be running at multiple universities (including my own University of Edinburgh) that use the book this AY.

Here’s an interesting clip (below) from the Financial Times (yesterday) on the recent vote (taken by Qualified Majority Voting) to share out refugees between the EU’s 28 Member States.  The case shows that:

  1. even very controversial measures – on which consensus is impossible – are sometimes put to a QMV;
  2. even after a decision is made, the battle often goes on (in this case, via the EU Court of Justice);
  3. the devil is often in detail:  that is, even when a decision is made, implementing the decision can range from difficult to (probably in this case) impossible.

More soon.

Best,

John Peterson – U of Edinburgh

Financial Times – UK Edition (The Financial Times Limited)
– Clipping Loc. 673-98 | Added on Thursday, 1 October 15 17:09:02 GMT+03:57

Slovakia to take action in court over sharing vote HENRY FOY — WARSAW DUNCAN ROBINSON — BRUSSELS | 502 words Migrant crisis Slovakia plans to take Brussels to court over an EU plan to share 120,000 asylum seekers, in the latest challenge to a deeply divisive proposal that has shattered solidarity over the migrant crisis. Bratislava will file a case at the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, by mid-December arguing the proposals breach EU rules, a spokesman for the Slovak justice ministry said. Slovakia, a staunch opponent of quotas to share out migrants, was one of four countries to oppose the plan, which was passed after a majority vote by the European Council, which comprises the heads of the 28 member states. The move to force the council vote came after weeks of negotiations failed to result in a compromise upon which all member states could agree. Of the four countries to oppose the scheme, the Czech Republic and Romania have ruled out legal action, while Hungary is still considering it. If Slovakia presses on with its legal case, its chances of success are thin, according to Brussels officials. Although it is rare for countries to be outvoted on controversial matters, it is perfectly legal to do so under EU rules. A spokesman for the European Commission said: “It is of course a member state prerogative to challenge council decisions before the court. As long as court proceedings are ongoing, member states still have to comply with the law.” Slovakia is expected to base its case around the notion that council decisions such as the one taken on migrant quotas are only allowed to bypass normal legislative procedure if the issue is urgent and temporary. Bratislava will argue that because normal legislative procedures were not attempted, the issue cannot be considered urgent enough to push it through the council, and that the measure is not temporary, as it covers a two-year period of migrant sharing. A Slovak ministry of justice official said: “They cannot make this kind of decision based on a majority. It is illegal and we will fight it. We will not accept the council’s decision”. Officials from across Europe will meet this week in Brussels to discuss details of the migrant sharing plan. Under the plan, a total of 160,000 — which includes a smaller scheme to relocate 40,000 people agreed this summer — will be redistributed from Italy and Greece across the rest of the EU. Yet despite months of argument over the proposals, details of the scheme — ranging from how to process people arriving to deciding where they are sent — are yet to be finalised. Privately, EU officials admit that there is little they can do if a country refuses to accept its quota beyond launching standard infringement proceedings, which take years to resolve. Speaking at a press conference in Bratislava, Robert Fico, Slovakian prime minister, said there was no way to force a country to take its quota against its wishes. “We disagree with mandatory quotas and we formalised that opinion today,” Mr Fico said. Slovakia is required to take 802 asylum seekers under the scheme, with those sent most likely to come from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq.
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Welcome to the EU: How Does it Work? 4th edn blog!