The big Brexit negotiations are set to stir debate, as EU leaders meet for a two-day summit in Brussels. But diplomats are downplaying the chances of a major breakthrough.
On Tuesday, the EU’s negotiator urged the British government to keep up the momentum in the talks, if it wants them to advance to a new phase in December.
Michel Barnier has held dinner talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as London seeks to broaden the Brexit discussions.
The EU says it will only discuss future relations with Britain once “sufficient progress” has been made on the divorce bill, the rights of citizens hit by Brexit and the status of the Northern Ireland-Ireland border.
May believes these issues are deeply linked to future EU-UK relations, and that it all should be discussed as a package.
EU leaders are unlikely to broaden the talks at their summit, but might do so when they meet again in Brussels in December.
Euronews’ Gregoire Lory discussed the prospects of progress with Charles de Marcilly, the head of the Brussels office of the Robert Schuman Foundation.
euronews: “Is it necessary to expect progress on Brexit after this summit?”
Charles de Marcilly: “This is the big question and we are going to have some progress because it is necessary but not an overflowing enthusiasm. It is clear that the negotiations take time, that it does not go as quickly as one wishes. The Heads of State and Government were offered and given a mandate to the European Commission and chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to advance. We are in the fifth round of negotiations and we have the feeling that the conclusions are still in the first round of negotiations. So yes we are going to have discussions, we will have debates, we know that it is Theresa May’s strategy to try to put it to the highest possible level for precisely not to go into details. And it’s more the feeling, or it gives the feeling that it annoys everyone.”
euronews: “Theresa May met Jean-Claude Juncker at a dinner earlier this week. Has something emerged that could move these negotiations forward?”
Charles de Marcilly: “We know that we are coming out of a week of negotiations last week and that the conclusions and the press conference between the two chief negotiators were very cold. We see that there are real divergences, even perceptions of the progress of the negotiations which are absolutely not the same. So the overall message that is launched is that we are rather on the frost.
“We saw on Monday evening that there was a press release from the European Commission that had been released, which was rather paradoxical because it requires a press release so we think there is information. When one reads the communiqué one notices that there is strictly nothing in it. And that if this communiqué had been presented in January we would have had the same content. And then even in terms of images, we did not have much.”
euronews: “Yet the EU made this summit an important step in the timetable of the negotiations?”
Charles de Marcilly: “The European Union and the United Kingdom! It must be remembered that faced with this lack of progress you have Theresa May who calls, with different speeches especially one in Italy, to go a little further. And it was normally a new advance on the part of the British. They think that’s progress on their side. They expect the same from the Europeans. Except that Europeans see political logic but see nothing at all from a practical point of view. And that’s where there’s a divergence. It is that once again the British want to put it entirely on the political side. While the Europeans decided to move from technology to politics.”
euronews: “On Ireland, the question of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, what is the position of the EU? What is the position of the United Kingdom? And is that going on?”
Charles de Marcilly: “This is going ahead and not. That was one of the priorities of the Europeans. After the second round of negotiations the British recognised that it was indeed a priority. The Europeans say: it is Britain which is leaving, it is up to you to be inventive and to find a solution. Yet in all the documents of proposals there is no solution that is clearly explicit. We see that we could go back to a few border points, we estimate five to 10. From a practical point of view it is very complicated to implement, so today it is always the question.
“On other subjects, notably on the British cheque, the bill ultimately that the British must assume, there is also no firm commitment on the part of the British. We had leaks in the press that they would agree on 20, 30 or 40 billion whereas the Europeans estimate that it is closer to the 100 billion. So there is a real fundamental problem because on these major issues that had to unlock the second phase, it finally does not progress.”
euronews: “There was talk of starting the second phase, it is much too early to get there. Is this December horizon of the December European summit realistic, given the difficulties of moving forward between the two negotiators?
Charles de Marcilly: “The Europeans finally did not offer much concession because they feel that the British have not really advanced. On the British side we have a real problem, it is a domestic policy problem. So even before being able to negotiate in Brussels with a united front, we see that among the Conservatives we see that among the ministers of the government of Theresa May you have perceptions that are very divergent.
“Under these conditions, the only modus operandi you can have when you arrive in Brussels is the firmness at the beginning of the negotiations. And that’s the reason why between the fifth round of negotiations, those last week, and the first, one has a feeling of finally freezing, quite little progress and that’s where Theresa May will try to show her diplomatic talent this week with heads of state and government, to show that there is progress, to show that it may be a little successful in tweaking their arms.
“But it is very clear that on the European side as long as it is the united front, it is Theresa May that is in a position of weakness.”