UK leaders will have to 'tell the truth' on Brexit
By Eric Maurice
The British government and Brexiters will have to "tell the truth" about the price of leaving the EU, the president of the European People's Party (EPP) told EUobserver.
"I think Britons don't know yet how the negotiation will go," Joseph Daul said in an interview on the margins of the EPP congress in Malta, a day after British prime minister Theresa May sent the notification of her country's exit to the EU.
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Daul said that the British government would "get it all wrong" if it thought that it could "negotiate country by country, sector by sector. On agriculture with one country, on fisheries with another".
He said the EU would "follow the plan established by the European institutions and Michel Barnier", the EU chief negotiator.
Daul's center-right EPP is the party of the three top EU institution's heads - the European Commission's Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Council's Donald Tusk and the European Parliament's Antonio Tajani - as well as of Barnier.
The EPP, like the EU as a whole, said at its congress that the three top priorities in the upcoming negotiations would be the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, the UK's financial commitments towards the EU, and the status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK's Northern Ireland.
"I think that we will be very united on that," Daul said, referring to the EU position that the UK's only negotiating partner is Barnier, with the support of the European Council, where EU leaders meet.
"Do you think there will be division on the question of the right of European citizens? Do you think there will be division on the question on funding?" he said.
"That is why we need to start with the main problems first. Then we'll negotiate how we'll work with the UK."
If there is no deal on citizens's rights, Daul said, "it will be a hard, hard Brexit".
He said that the UK would "not leave the table without paying the bill", which he said would be "over" the €60 billion that has been unofficially mentioned so far.
"They don't want to talk about it, but the bill must be entirely paid by the UK," he said. "They are not aware of that or they don't want to know."
He said that May was probably "aware of what is going to happen" but that she, and the British politicians who supported Brexit, "will have to tell people the truth".
Daul admitted that Brexit would hurt Europe, but insisted that the UK had more to lose.
"I met recently a Chinese official who told me that for them, England is like a big Chinese city," he said. "He told me: 'If we have to choose between a big Chinese city and the EU, we'll chose the EU'."
"We also have to see the opportunities that Brexit offers [for the EU]," he said, adding that, for exemple, "we'll progress faster on security and defence [because] the Brits always blocked everything".
Asked about the French presidential election next month, the EPP chief, a Frenchman, said that a victory for far-right leader Marine Le Pen was "unthinkable" for him.
If she was elected "it would be bad for Europe and the euro, but it would be catastrophic for France," he said.
Le Pen has promised to organise a referendum on France's EU membership and wants to re-introduce a national currency to replace the euro in France.
Daul admitted Le Pen would pose "more problems than Brexit", but that "there are plans" afoot on how to cope even with her.
He told EUobserver that "committes, at the highest level, are working on the hypothesis that France leaves the euro and the EU".
He declined to specify whether these working groups were in EU capitals or in the EU institutions.
"If Le Pen is elected and wants to leave the euro and the EU, Europe would not stop," he said. "Germany and other countries would still have their currency."
"I hope that Europe would resist, not only Germany," he added.
Mentioning Poland, a country under EU monitoring over concerns about respect of the rule of law, Daul said he was "not worried as long as we are in a democracy and we vote every four or five years".
"I will be worried when one wil start putting democracy into question, changing the rules so democracy cannot work anymore," he said.
For that reason, the head of the EPP said, "it is too early" to trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty, which can lead to sanctions, against Poland.
Brexit as well as the rise of anti-EU parties like Le Pen's National Front are considered by some as the consequence of the EU's failure to address Europeans' concerns.
On 25 March, in Rome, EU leaders pledged to make the EU closer to citizens and more efficient.
"We have to address the fears of our European fellow citizens, which are exploited by populist parties," Daul said, admitting that Europeans "have not understood" what the EU has been doing.
"We have seen that with the migration, the question of the control of borders … We wanted to prepare the future, and we didn't explain enough what we were doing," he said.
In the Rome declaration, EU leaders did not endorse the idea, supported by the EPP, of a multi-speed EU, but they said that some of them could push forward on certain issues
Daul said that a multi-speed Europe meant both institutional engineering and concrete projects, like the monetary union or defence policy, "but also professional training for youth, or the digital single market".
"Those who want to go faster and farther on some issues, let's let them do it, and let's not block them by saying that they have to wait for the ones at the back to go forward," he said.