The EU has published the first draft on Brexit treaty.
This text was prepared by the European Commission’s Task Force 50, led by chief negotiator Michel Barnier, based on the initial mandate it received from the Council and the political understanding between the EU and the UK at the end of the first phase of the negotiations, ended in December 2017. This is a “framework document” only for the UK leaving the EU, not the relationship that will take shape after the UK effectively becomes a third country.
The next steps:
- The remaining 27 member states may and are expected to make changes of the draft text published today
- The changes will be discussed (‘negotiated’) “within the EU and with all the institutions”, per Barnier’s statement during the press conference today
- The final version of the text will be taken for negotiations with the U.K.
First round of negotiations after the publication of the first draft on Brexit will start next week.
Here is the latest analysis on Brexit that AC+ members received in their inbox on Feb. 15. To receive AC+ free Geopolitical Focus Points analysis, register your email address here.
Brexit is the single most important geopolitical event for the EU happening at the moment. The negotiations over Brexit are shaping up not only the future relationship between the UK and the EU, but also the political arena in Europe. The UK needs to secure bilateral relationships with European states that it already has strong ties to. In the same time, the EU member states have their own interests in keeping good relations with the UK and they are influencing the negotiation process according to those interests. Monitoring the Brexit negotiations process is revealing about the national interests of each member state in relation to the UK and the EU as well.
The EU Commission leads the negotiations on behalf of the EU. The UK has appointed a Brexit Secretary to discuss with the EU over the matter. The EU Commission gets its negotiation mandate from the EU Council, where the member states meet and decide on the matters that need to be discussed with regards to the UK exit from the EU during each phase of the negotiations. While the EU needs trade with the UK as much as the UK needs trade with the EU, there are particular matters beyond trade that need to be negotiated: such as borders’ management between the UK and the EU, the British services sector access to the EU market and so on. On such matters, EU member states have different opinions, as they have different national interests.
Consensus needs to be reached among the EU member states before the Commission gets any guidelines on how to tackle the remaining matters on the agenda. This allows the UK to discuss with each member state in the EU on upcoming negotiations, exploiting the intra-EU differences. For example, in December British Prime Minister traveled to Poland where, besides signing on enhancing the bilateral defense cooperation, she also secured Polish support for Britain’s stance on backing a trade deal between the UK and the EU which allows uninterrupted trade in both goods and services.
In January, the French President Macron visited London and, after he and PM May had signed a bilateral agreement on managing the UK-French border, he said that he had also made an offer to May on Brexit during their talks. Macron said that the offer was “something perhaps between this full access [to the single market] and a trade agreement” suggesting that financial services could be included in the deal, “depending on what [the UK] was ready to put on the table in terms of precondition.” All this points that the negotiations on Brexit are shaped mainly by nation states’ interests and less by what Brussels may want to negotiate on.
This is why there shouldn’t be surprising that there is sometimes silence coming from those that appear to be directly involved in the Brexit negotiations. The EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Secretary David Davis met at least once a month until December 2017, when the first hurdle on the road to the UK formal exit from the EU was passed. But there was any official meeting neither between the two nor between their teams in January. There were no press releases indicating progress was made in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. However, the talks between Barnier and Davis teams continued, even if not in public. They took the form of technical negotiations, settling on particular elements regarding the ending of the first phase and the preparation of the next phase of negotiations. Talks – while not formal negotiations (only the EU Commission Task Force negotiates Brexit, the member states discuss bilateral matters with the UK) also continued between the EU member states and the UK at bilateral level.
But ultimately, it is the Council and the Commission who set the timeline and the pace of the negotiations. In December, the EU Commission said that “sufficient progress” had been made on negotiations so that the first phase of talks between the EU and the UK be ended and both prepare for the next phase. At the end of the first phase, in December 2017, it was decided that the rights of the EU citizens living in Britain and of the Britons living in the EU will be protected after Brexit in the same way that they are currently protected. It was also established that Britain will continue to contribute to the EU’s annual budgets up until 2020. This will be a slow and steady separation.
The most important point of this first agreement was that the UK conceded that it would avoid re-imposing a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and Ireland and “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom would maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal [Single] Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement (GFA).” Brexit was all about London having its own rules and not complying with those of the EU. With this first agreement, Northern Ireland is still subject to EU rules – therefore it has a potentially different than the rest of the UK territory. The UK will have to transfer the agreement into national legislation, resulting into precise rules that involve both the regulation of trade and security matters, both relating to border management.
On January 29, the EU General Affairs Council started discussions on the negotiation guidelines for the transition and implementation period starting March 29, when the UK would become a non-member country of the EU. The EU member states will have to decide on the time given to the UK to exit, as well as on the conditions under which the UK will transition. The Commission argues that the UK doesn’t need more than one year to fully detach itself from the EU. The British government says it would need at least two years. The matter will be decided by the EU member states. Similarly, the EU member states, gathered at the EU Council meeting in March will send the negotiation guidelines for trade talks to the EU Commission. Further negotiations between the UK and the EU, represented by the Commission would lead to the issuance of a first outline on the future trade agreement in October 2018.
Just as at every step during the negotiations, the member states bring forth their own stance and are engaged in negotiations over Brexit both within the EU and, on a bilateral level, with the UK, they have a saying on the final agreement on Brexit as well. All EU capitals need to approve the outline that will result in Oct. 2018 from talks between the UK and Brussels. This is needed for the UK to effectively exit in March 2019. After that, negotiations will start on the details regarding the trade relations between the UK and the EU. Remaining EU member states will be similarly involved in the negotiation process and the deal reached will need to be approved in all capitals.
Considering the specific steps and implications of Brexit negotiations, there are three major layers that relate to Europe’s geopolitics. First, there is the manner that the UK will survive Brexit. The first concession made by Britain, over not changing much of the current rules in Northern Ireland, is an early warning of the sensitivity London has to each of the four constituent parts of the UK. Negotiations over Brexit entail political negotiations within the UK.
Second, the Brexit negotiations test the EU. Each time talks get to a new phase, the member states need to negotiate, establish a common stance and give a mandate to the Commission. Considering the EU fragmentation process, with Brussels’ politics constantly distancing from the member states’ politics, it becomes increasingly challenging for the member states to have common positions with Brussels. But taking that the member states’ economic relations with the UK are at stake, Brexit negotiations may actually serve as a unifying factor for the increasingly divided Europeans.
Third, the negotiations are an opportunity for the UK to define new partnerships and build its own alliance structure within Europe. The UK is interested in maintaining close relationships with certain countries, also EU members, for strategic reasons. Its exit from the EU, considering London needs to discuss with EU member states on terms relating to Brexit deal, gives an opportunity for the EU to enhance these relationships. Brexit – both as an event and a process – is also changing the nature of the EU. In other words, the entity with which London seeks a future relationship is itself subject to change.