EU states to keep control of Brexit talks
By Eszter Zalan
Twenty seven EU leaders, without Britain’s Theresa May, will sit down for dinner in Brussels on Thursday (15 December), to discuss the technicalities of Brexit negotiations.
The final act of the EU summit will not agree guidelines for the upcoming talks, but is expected to agree on the procedure.
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The 27 are to issue a short statement reiterating that there would be no negotiations with London before it invoked the Article 50 exit clause in the Lisbon Treaty.
On Monday, EU diplomats sketched out a draft annex, seen by EUobserver, to the EU27 statement that goes into some detail of how they envisage the Brexit process.
May said she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March by formally notifying the other EU states of the UK's intention to leave.
Once that is done, the 27 will "set out the overall positions and principles" of their negotiation mandate, the annex says. They could amend these guidelines later, if necessary.
According to the one-page draft document, the General Affairs Council [GAC], which is made up of EU affairs ministers and foreign ministers, would handle the Article 50 procedure. It would authorise the opening of negotiations, based on the guidelines.
The EU negotiator will most likely be the European Commission, as it has the manpower to handle the legal quagmire.
"We want to make sure that there is one negotiator on the continental side, and the Commission has the know-how and the capacities," an EU official told EUobserver.
The source said that "on the other hand, it must be clear that the Commission will not negotiate on its institutional behalf, but on behalf of the 27 [countries], that have tangible interests [in the outcome]."
The EU27 aim to hold the Commission and its chief negotiator, French politician Michel Barnier, on a tight leash.
"There is a strong appeal from the member states that they should fully participate and want to have strong control over the negotiations," said an EU official.
Barnier will need to include people from EU council chief Donald Tusk's office in the discussions with the UK.
Regular meetings of EU ambassadors and a specially dedicated working group in the EU Council, with a permanent chairman, will also make sure that the negotiations are conducted in line with the guidelines and will "provide guidance" to Barnier.
"We have major issues at stake. It’s not us being difficult with the Commission, but this is a negotiation like no other, so it has to be very carefully designed in terms of institutional mechanics," an EU diplomat said.
"We have to make sure there is no meltdown at national parliament level [when the final Brexit deal has to be ratified], that’s why [we need] the strict control," the diplomat added.
Barnier said last week that he would also keep the European Parliament informed.
UK locked out
The UK’s representatives will not take part in any of the internal EU talks, whether in GACs, lower level EU27 Council groups, or EU inter-institutional meetings.
The annex does not go into political objectives that the 27 aim to push for.
"We are not there yet," a senior EU diplomat said.