19 October 2018

European Council President: “Not enough progress has been made” to call November Brexit summit

Speaking after yesterday’s summit of EU27 leaders, European Council President Donald Tusk said, “I stand ready to convene a European Council on Brexit if and when the EU negotiator [Michel Barnier] reports that decisive progress has been made, and we should be clear that for now, not enough progress has been made.” On proposals to extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 2020, he said, “If the UK decided that an extension of the transition would be helpful to reach a deal, I’m sure the leaders would be ready to consider this positively.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said, “This is giving us some room to prepare the future relationship in the best way possible.”

Elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Brexit is “no longer a technical issue,” adding, “All technical scenarios have been examined and re-examined. It is up to the UK to find a presentable agreement.” He said the EU expected Prime Minister Theresa May to “come back with a solution on the basis of political compromises.” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel also said yesterday, “More than ever, it appears the ball is in the UK’s court.”

Source: Reuters Politico The Independent

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Irish Europe Minister: Theresa May told Varadkar backstop cannot be time-limited

Prime Minister Theresa May told her Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar that the backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland “can’t have a time limit,” Ireland’s Europe Minister Helen McEntee has told Politico. McEntee said, “I think reassuringly from our own meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, she again reaffirmed her commitment to an Irish backstop — that it must be within the Withdrawal Agreement; that it must be legally operable; and that it can’t have a time limit.” This comes after May’s official spokesman said on Tuesday that the UK Cabinet has discussed “a mechanism to clearly define how that backstop will end.”

Separately, Theresa May re-iterated in public yesterday that the EU’s “original proposal” for the backstop “was one we could not accept in the UK. It would have created a customs border down the Irish Sea.” She added that “a further idea that has emerged… is to… extend the implementation period for a matter of months.”

Elsewhere, in an article for this morning’s Times Red Box, Open Europe’s Director Henry Newman writes, “The backstop is the one and only issue blocking an orderly Brexit — and unless a way through can be found, we may be looking at No Deal.” He adds, “When the EU agreed to the concept of a backstop back in December it took a risk… It was breaking its ‘no cherry picking’ approach.” Newman concludes, “The negotiators should step back and remember what they are actually trying to achieve: the avoidance of a hard border. It would be a bitter irony indeed if an inability to resolve an insurance policy to prevent the hardening of the Irish border drove us to no deal and so a possible hardening of the border.”

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Andrea Leadsom: Parliament will vote on “whether or not” to accept a deal on Withdrawal Agreement

The Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, yesterday told MPs that if the UK successfully negotiates a deal with the EU on the Withdrawal Agreement, the House of Commons will “consider the question that will in reality be before the United Kingdom, and that is whether or not to accept the deal that the government has negotiated with the European Union.” This comes amid as MPs on both sides of the House accused the Government of a “power grab” by seeking to make the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, in which amendments by backbenchers could be ignored.

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Merkel and Macron reportedly call for the EU to be “more flexible” on Irish backstop issue

The Financial Times reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated to other EU leaders that the EU and the Republic of Ireland should rethink their approach on Northern Ireland to unlock Brexit negotiations. Meanwhile, speaking after the summit yesterday, Merkel said, “We all need to find an answer on Ireland and Northern Ireland. But if you don’t have an agreement then you don’t have an answer either,” adding that the backstop “has quite a lot to do with the future relations so there is an interdependence.”

Elsewhere, The Times reports that French President Emmanuel Macron also joined Merkel in calling for the EU to be “more flexible” to resolve the Irish backstop. Senior diplomats told the paper that France and Germany are now in “deal mode.”

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The Telegraph: Scottish Secretary tells PM he could not accept longer transition for fisheries

The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, has warned the Prime Minister he will not accept an extension to the Brexit transition period which includes an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Mundell’s intervention, reported in the Telegraph, comes amid concerns over any extension of CFP membership from Scottish Conservative MPs and the Scottish fishing industry. After Theresa May’s admission that the transition period could be extended earlier this week, Bertie Armstrong, leader of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that there was “absolutely no practical reason why [a transition extension] should apply to an extension of the CFP.” David Duguid, the MP for Banff and Buchan, also described an end to the CFP by December 2020 as a “red line” for the Scottish Conservatives.

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Commission examining Italian budget without bias, says Jean-Claude Juncker

Speaking at the end of the European Council summit yesterday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on the Italian government’s budget proposals, “We are currently examining the draft budget as sent to us by the Italian authorities the day before yesterday…  we have no negative prejudice against the Italian budget. We will be examining it with the same rigour … as we use to examine others.”  Juncker also warned that the Commission would not grant any flexibility to Italy on budget matters.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the European Commission yesterday warned Italy about its breaches of EU fiscal rules, potentially suggesting the rejection of the Italian budget proposal at the end of this month if the Italian government does not respond to the Commission’s concerns. This comes as EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger on Wednesday said “it is very likely” that Italy’s budget for 2019 is not compatible with its EU commitments. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said, “I have no sympathy for the budget proposal Italy has sent to Brussels. We surely won’t pay for the debts and populist campaign pledges of others.”

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Regulatory tensions arise between US and EU over derivatives clearing

The EU yesterday defended its newly proposed regulations on derivatives clearing after it drew criticisms from their US regulatory counterpart on Wednesday, arguing that the Union is entitled to oversee foreign financial companies serving EU clients. European Commission spokesman Johannes Bahrke said, “It is the prerogative of the EU legislator to set the general supervisory framework for central counterparties (CCPs) active in the EU and we would expect third country authorities to respect that, just as we respect the rules and legislative procedures in other countries.” Bahrke added, “We reiterate that the cooperative oversight we have proposed is modelled for systemically important cross-border CCPs on the United States’ own supervisory system.”

Elsewhere, the EU is expected to raise concerns regarding US surveillance over EU citizens’ data covered by a transatlantic data protection pact during a two day negotiation between officials. US officials told Politico that they were stumped by the EU’s concerns, arguing that many European national governments employ similarly intrusive data collection practices.

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Austrian Chancellor Kurz: EU leaders have made “great progress” on migration

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz yesterday announced that the EU leaders had made “great progress” on migration during their summit, and that although “we are not yet at our goal […] we have definitely made great progress.” This comes as Politico reports that Kurz suggested to the other EU heads of governments that those member states who are not willing to host refugees under an EU burden-sharing mechanism should contribute in other ways, for example by providing additional financial support. A similar model has been proposed by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, earlier this week. He said that if member states accept “no relocation [of refugees, then they need to pay] more money for Africa,” adding, “This should be a good compromise. It’s better to have an agreement with a compromise than no agreement.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly rejected Kurz’ proposal, with Politico suggesting that many other heads of government took the same position. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on the migration debate at the summit, “[We] did not come much further than where we were end-June.”

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Viktor Orban endorses Manfred Weber as EPP ‘Spitzenkandidat’

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban yesterday declared his support for the candidacy of Manfred Weber MEP, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), as ‘Spitzenkandidat’ for the post of European Commission President. According to Politico, now all eight EU heads of government who belong to the EPP have endorsed Weber as lead candidate.

Elsewhere, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the far-right Lega party, has suggested that he considers running as ‘Spitzenkandidat’ as well, saying, “Friends from different European countries have asked me, suggested it […] I’ll think about it.”

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Spanish PM: Gibraltar protocol no longer an obstacle in Brexit negotiations

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez yesterday said that the protocol on the status of Gibraltar post-Brexit which will be attached to the Withdrawal Agrement  “is already closed with the British government,” suggesting that the issue is no longer an obstacle in UK-EU negotiations. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrel said on Wednesday, “If the Brexit agreement needs to be signed tomorrow, it will be signed and Gibraltar won’t be a problem.”

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Henry Newman: This month's Eurobarometer shows some troubling results

In a new blog, Open Europe’s Henry Newman examines the results of the latest Eurobarometer survey on public attitudes towards the European Union, noting that it presents a mixed picture of public opinion across the EU28. He writes, “The study finds 50% of respondents think the EU is ‘going in the wrong direction’. That’s up from 42% in April of this year…Those are very troubling findings which should make for concerning reading in Brussels, Strasbourg, and European capitals.” He also notes, “On the referendum question, Italy showed the lowest support for remaining in the EU – just 44%, with 32% unsure. Similarly, in the Czech Republic 47% of respondents backed remaining in the EU with 29% unsure. Those are not encouraging results.” Newman concludes,”It remains to be seen what the turnout will be like in next year’s European elections. But it’s unlikely that there will be a major jump in participation. What is more likely is that the elections will mark the continuation of the drawing of Europe’s political landscape – we expect the Socialists & Democrats to get knocked back further and more of the so-called populists to enter the European Parliament.”