Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday to talk about member states’ budget plans for this year and the problems of Greece’s latest bailout loan on which there is so far no progress.
But with the announcement from London on Article 50 they found themselves commenting on the timing and circumstances of Britain notifying the European Union of its leaving.
Asked for his thoughts, the head of the ministers’ group Jeroen Dijsselbloem said: “I hope for realism. Realism about the sequence of events, realism about what it will cost. Realism about the complexity and the time that will be needed. Up till now I haven’t heard that from the British government. So we will wait and see.”
Spirit of collaboration
Italy’s Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan was more upbeat, saying he had discussed Brexit with the Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond during the G20 gathering in Germany over the weekend: “I have already had the chance to speak with Chancellor Hammond in Baden-Baden, about this. And, I think that of course, the UK and the EU 27 are looking at the issue from different perspectives. But, I think that there is a good spirit of collaboration.”
Padoan has in the past has warned Britain’s exit might not be an “isolated case” unless the European Union responds to the rise of populism.
Ireland focuses on trade and borders
Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said his country was ready but anxious for Brexit negotiations to begin, listing a number of issues.
He told reporters: “We have the issues on the island of Ireland to do with the peace process, to do with relationships with Northern Ireland, to do with the free movement of people north and south and into the UK, which of course means the maintenance of the common labour market which we’ve had been Ireland and the UK for quite a long time. There’s a second set of issues to do with trade then. And it’s in our interests that we would come as close to the UK having a free trade agreement with the European Union as is possible, because 1.2 billion worth of trade crosses the Irish sea every week.”
The other issued occupying the minds of the Eurogroup ministers was whether Jeroen Dijsselbloem can complete his term as their president if he loses his job as Dutch finance minister following elections there.
Dijsselbloem, whose term runs until January, is highly regarded by the other 18 euro zone finance ministers and by the European Union institutions, but his socialist party suffered heavy losses in parliamentary elections in the Netherlands last week. It is therefore unclear if Dijsselbloem will remain in the government of liberal Mark Rutte after negotiations on a new coalition.
On that Dijsselbloem said: “As you know, my mandate runs until January. So the formation of a new coalition government in the Netherlands may take some months. So whether there is a gap between the arrival of a new minister and the end of my mandate is too early to say. And in that situation if there is a gap in time between those two then it is up to the Eurogroup to decide how they want to proceed.”
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble added: “We have a Eurogroup president, he has been elected to serve until 2018. He does his work very well. The Netherlands has an elections result, now coalition negotiations will be conducted. They certainly don’t want any public comments from the non-Dutch, myself included, but Jeroen Dijsselbloem is a good Eurogroup president and his mandate goes until 2018.”