UK to have 'special' EU relations, Germany says
The UK is likely to have “special” relations with the EU after it leaves, but there can be no leeway on free movement, a German minister has said.
"Given Britain's size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comparison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union," Michael Roth, Germany’s junior minister for EU affairs, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday (16 August).
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The minister, from the Social Democrat Party in the German coalition, said relations should be “as close as possible”, but he also said “there cannot be any cherry picking” on basic EU rights, such as free movement of workers.
"The free movement of workers is a highly prized right in the European Union and we don't want to wobble on that,” Roth said.
EU-associated countries such as Norway and Switzerland, which have been touted as potential Brexit models, have access to the single market but have to let in EU workers in return.
Asked by Reuters if the UK deal could include curbs on workers, Roth said: “I can't imagine that."
Reports at the weekend suggested Britain could delay starting the Brexit negotiations until after French and German elections next year.
But Roth urged London to end the uncertainty for EU politicians and British businesses as quickly as possible.
"Until the end of the year should really be sufficient time to get organised [for the exit talks],” he said, adding that the UK should have formally left before the next European Parliament elections in mid-2019.
"There can't be any British members in the next European Parliament."
EU leaders in any case plan to meet in Bratislava in mid-September without the British PM to start talks on post-Brexit EU reforms.
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi will also host the French and German leaders next week on the island of Ventotene for a pre-Bratislava discussion.
Sandro Gozi, Italy’s EU affairs minister, told the Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday that if Europe waits too long to make changes it risks feeding eurosceptic sentiment.
Italy seeks reform
“If there is to be a delay, the priority for us is that it should not lead to immobility, to inertia on all the other things we need to do at the EU level,” he said. “Europe has to give urgent, concrete answers which certainly cannot wait more than a year.”
Italy is keen for the EU to step up integration on issues such as economic governance, pooling of financial risk, and joint migration policy.
But Germany has said the Brexit vote showed that European voters do not want to pool more sovereignty.
"Europe needs to change," Gozi said. "This means strengthening the fundamental rights, and the fundamental values, which pushed Europeans to stay together and should push tomorrow’s Europeans to stay together even more."
He added that the Bratislava talks should lead to a new “political pact” on the EU’s future, which could be enshrined amid festivities next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the 1957 accords that founded the EU.