Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Brexit talks must get political, or face delay

  • Juncker (l) and Cameron will have lunch on Thursday (Photo: Consillium)

EU leaders will hear a preliminary assessment of the UK's EU membership negotiations at the summit in Brussels on Thursday (15 October), but the real political discussions might be delayed until March, as London has not produced specific demands so far.

EU sources described the ongoing technical discussions between the UK, the European Commission and the Council representing member states as “useful”, but said that little has been achieved or discussed on substance to reform the UK’s relationship with the bloc.

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Some EU officials suggested that if Britain fails to come up with a specific list of requests from EU member states, the discussions on the issue, slated for December, might be pushed back to the next summit in March, a “more realistic date.”

Prime minister David Cameron was re-elected five-months ago with the promise to reform Britain's relationship with the EU before a referendum by late 2017.

The four areas where he wants to see changes are sovereignty – more say for national parliaments in European affairs –, economic governance – making sure non-eurozone members’ interests are protected –, competitiveness in the EU as a whole, and cutting back welfare benefits for migrants and EU citizens.

Cameron outlined his wishes in a short address to EU heads of states and governments in June.

Complex discussions

Since then, “complex, legal” discussions have been taking place. EU leaders will be briefed on the state of play on Thursday.

“This technical exercise has reached its limits. If we want an answer on the substance, we need a political process, that is a precise formulation of demands,” an EU diplomat said.

“Brussels is waiting for an exhausting inventory of items,” said another source, describing the UK’s position as “reluctant”.

A series of discussions are planned with representatives of member states, and Jonathan Faull, the EU Commission’s chief negotiator, is to visit European capitals for further talks.

“There are doubts that we can do this in December, March could be a more realistic date, so that UK would be able to have referendum in October, September next year,” an EU official said.

A source familiar with the negotiations pointed out that the British are pushing hard to come up with a specific list by December, but the decision is up to Cameron. They also insist that there will be no surprises for fellow EU members among Britain’s requests.

An overture to the negotiations on a political level will be on Thursday, when EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will host David Cameron for lunch.

“The European Commission wants a fair deal with Britain,” Juncker reiterated in a speech on Wednesday in the European Parliament.

He added that he cannot give details on the technical negotiations, but said: “I can’t say that huge progress has been achieved, can’t say nothing has been achieved. But to tango it takes two.”

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