17 October 2017

May and Juncker agree to “accelerate” negotiations, but no breakthrough on withdrawal issues

In a joint statement following their working dinner yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “[They had] reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come. The working dinner took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere.” However, no substantial progress was made on the three withdrawal issues: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and Northern Ireland. Neither side put any further offers on the table.

Elsewhere, ahead of her meeting in Brussels, Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday called French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in an attempt to unlock Brexit negotiations. In particular, she called on Macron to soften his stance, with France understood to be one of the member states insisting on greater clarity on the financial settlement before talks can move forward. The Financial Times quotes one French diplomat as saying, “If we can help out Mrs May without threatening the sequencing of the negotiation, we’ll do it. But it’s a delicate balancing act, because the Brexit team…need to focus on the first part of the negotiations. If we have to choose, our priority goes to the divorce deal.

Separately, The Times reports government sources who claim the EU is refusing to close an agreement on citizens’ rights that is “almost done” in order to extract more concessions from the UK on the financial settlement. One source said, “It is hard to see this as anything else other than an attempt to increase the pressure on our position.”

Source: Guardian The Times Financial Times

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German draft paper suggests structure of post-Brexit relationship

A draft paper prepared by the German Foreign Ministry shows that the country is preparing proposals for the EU’s future relationship with the UK, including provision for a “comprehensive free-trade accord.” The document, which is dated October 11, warns the EU against a piecemeal approach in any discussion on a future trade deal, which should be “balanced, ambitious and far reaching.” It proposes a broad partnership which would include “at a minimum” cooperation on the issues of foreign and security policy, combating terrorism, cooperation on criminal justice, agriculture and fisheries, energy, transport, research and digital issues.

The Ministry also wrote, “We share the UK’s desire to secure a close partnership with the Union after its exit that covers economic and trade relations.” The Ministry declined to comment on the paper.


“Not very sensible” to prepare for no-deal at the last moment, says Mervyn King

Former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, criticised Chancellor Philip Hammond’s “strange position” not to spend money on preparing for a no-deal situation until the very last moment. King said, “It’s possible that it might be too late to put in place. Certainly you can’t put in place new arrangements for customs forms and so on, migration arrangements, in the space of a few months…It’s not very sensible for the UK to allow itself to be put in that position.” He added that the UK must have a “credible fallback plan that makes it clear to every other member country in the EU that we are capable of leaving in 2019.” He also warned, “The big problem facing the UK is that the government doesn’t seem to have a clear strategy it has enunciated.”

Elsewhere, Hammond has said he does not believe the chance of a no deal Brexit scenario has risen. He added,  “It is so blindingly obviously in the best interests of both the UK and the European Union 27 that we do reach a deal so we can continue trading together.”


Commission Chief Juncker backs Macron’s reforms

European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has informally endorsed France’s structural reforms, including a labour market reform proposed by the French government this summer. The reforms, according to Junker, will enable France to exit the procedure for excessive public deficit it is currently subject to and comply with European fiscal rules. Junker said, “France, with no doubts, will manage to bring its deficit level below 3 percent in 2017.” The endorsement received by the European Commission could strengthen the French President Emmanuel Macron in his bid to reshape the Eurozone.



BBC: proportion of EU nationals leaving NHS jobs has risen after Brexit

An analysis of National Health Service (NHS) digital figures conducted by the BBC has shown that the proportion of EU nationals leaving NHS jobs is rising while the numbers of those joining has fallen. The trend is most pronounced among nurses, and figures have shown that in 2017 only one in ten nurses joining the NHS were from EU countries compared with one in five in 2015.

The chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, said, “A nurse who trained in Lyon or Lisbon is as much a part of the NHA family as one trained in London. But sadly, it is no surprise that so many are leaving – few can live with the uncertainty.” She added, “During the Brexit negotiations, [Prime Minister] Theresa May must reassure nurses from around Europe that they are needed and welcome in the NHS. It would not survive without their contribution.”


Catalonia given until Thursday to abandon independence plans

Following his failure to clarify whether or not he declared independence last week, the Spanish  government has said that Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s regional president, has until Thursday to back away from any such intentions. Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said that Madrid would “take the next steps” if the region’s authorities failed to comply, indicating a possible suspension of Catalan autonomy. She added that the dialogue requested by Puigdemont would be impossible as long as the region continues to push ahead with independence.

Meanwhile, in a show of strength, the Spanish government arrested Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the leaders of two separatist organisations. This may be a signal that Madrid is ready to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution and impose direct rule on Catalonia. Commenting on Twitter, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said, “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again [a reference to Franco’s regime].”


Bloomberg: Bulgaria to consider providing Western Balkans “a clear action plan” for EU membership

Bloomberg reports that Bulgaria, who will take up the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January, will consider providing the Western Balkans a clearer path towards EU membership. Liliana Pavlova, the minister in charge of the presidency, has said, “We can’t change Europe’s agenda in six months, but we should be able to give to each of these countries a clear action plan based on their achievements and progress in resolving their problems…Otherwise the rifts between the regions would deepen.”


Free Democrats warn Merkel not to enter new commitments at EUCO

Christian Lindner, leader of the German Free Democrats (FDP), yesterday told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “I expect that Mrs Merkel and [acting Finance Minister] Peter Altmaier make it clear that the current German government is only in office in a managerial role”, adding that “Germany is currently not able to take decisions.” Regarding the European Council meeting in Brussels at the end of this week, he said, “no commitments must be made without new political legitimacy”, he added.