As expected, the EU27 decided at last week’s European Council summit that the UK had not made ‘sufficient progress’ in the Brexit negotiations to move talks on to the second phase of discussing the future relationship and trade. Below is a snap roundup of the reactions that came from European leaders and media.

EU reaction

According to reports, it only took ninety seconds for the EU to adopt the Article 50 conclusions. Although officially talks will not move onto the second phase, they did give the green light for internal preparatory discussions to begin.

The conclusions noted the UK had made progress on citizens’ rights and the Irish issue.  But the EU called for the Prime Minister’s offers on the financial settlement to be “translated into a firm and concrete commitment”.

The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, took a more positive tone toward the Brexit negotiations saying,

I think the general assessment is that we have come far enough that we can now start preparing for the next round of negotiations with Britain.

Swedish EU minister Ann Linde told Dagens Nyhteter that the Danish government had ordered the National Board of Trade to prepare for an eventual free trade deal with the UK.

A lot was read into the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s comments, when she said,

In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step…I have no doubt whatsoever [that the UK and EU can reach a deal], if we all have clear minds…The ball is not only in the UK’s court, but equally with us.

But as former UK Prime Minister David Cameron learned the hard way, people should be cautious about relying on Merkel as she has her own agenda – one that will not sacrifice EU unity.

Speaking at the close of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said the UK still has to make “a substantial financial effort”, adding, “We are far from having reached the necessary financial commitment…We’re not halfway there.” Asked whether he took seriously the threat of no deal raised by some within the UK Conservative party, Macron said, “At no moment has Theresa May ever raised a ‘no deal’ as an option…In no case is it part of the discussions.” He also appeared to reject what he termed “noises, bluffs, false information by secondary actors or spectators” on the possibility of no deal.

Arriving at the summit, Austrian chancellor Christian Kern claimed to the press:

Theresa May has confirmed that she desperately wants a deal, and that no deal is no longer better than a bad deal

As always at these things, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, was on hand to provide useful advice to everyone. Referring to the evacuation of the Council’s ‘Space Egg’ building she tweeted:

At the close of the summit, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “I think, at this stage, the 27 have been as flexible as we can be. We’re looking for a little more detail from the UK on what sort of future relationship they want. They say that they want the closest possible relationship with the European Union after Brexit but we’d like to know what that actually means. We don’t really have that as yet.” He added, “There is a real understanding around the table, I have to say, from the Lithuanian president sitting beside me to the Luxembourg prime minister across from me, that Ireland is unique — is in a very difficult transition — that this is not a problem of our creating and I do think that there will be flexibility for us.”

Bulgaria was a little warmer with the UK

What did the papers say?

While Brexit naturally dominates British press coverage, it doesn’t feature as heavily in the continental press

“New hope instead of Brexit-depression” titles Germany’s business-friendly Handelsblatt. “Brussels and London are finding commonalities” the article continues, adding, “For the first time since the Brexit referendum, things become more relaxed between Great Britain and the rest of the EU. May even wants to come round on the exit bill.” It warns, however, “Until December, Theresa May still has to expect many disturbances in London […] and spend all her energy to rein in the critics of a transition period that remain in her party.”

“Theresa May came, saw and received little at the EU summit”, Deutsche Welle writes. While May “put in all effort, with as much charm as she could, to get the EU to commit to cooperation instead of confrontation with the renegade kingdom […] the answers of the remaining EU states remain disappointing.”

“EU summit of limited opportunities” reads a headline on the website of Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, explaining that “Even after five rounds, Brexit negotiations are not progressing. Also Theresa May’s surprise visit to Brussels could not change this”. Citing an EU official, the article says, “The mood has improved since Theresa May’s speech in Florence […] a deal is possible, but money is the issue”.

Once again the contents of a private dinner between Theresa May and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker were leaked. The Sunday edition of German paper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) carried details of the dinner, on Monday of last week, ahead of the European Council meeting:

Theresa May begged for help with Brexit negotiations in Berlin, Paris and Brussels this week. The Europeans remained firm…She hinted at the fact that friend and foe were breathing down her neck at home, just waiting to overthrow her. She has no scope for action, May said, the Europeans would have to create it for her.

She is described has having given a “fearful […], despondent and dispirited” impression, “marked from the fight with her own party”.

Her meeting with Juncker had been arranged “at last minute”; with the FAZ reporting that “her initial threat that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ did not play any role any longer.” Because European leaders prefer to “negotiate with a realist [Theresa] May rather than dreamer Boris [Johnson] […] her defeat had to be packaged nicely.” Still, “Regarding the political conclusions of the Brexit negotiations, May’s last-minute-diplomacy did not change anything.”

German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel were more concerned with Merkel’s role and Turkey rather than Brexit

A commentary in German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung demands that “The Chancellor [Angela Merkel] must develop the will to switch from the mode of a crisis manager into that of a pro-active politician. Angela Merkel owes a response to the Europe-speech of French President Emmanuel Macron.” It continues, “Merkel finally needs to present her vision for Europe. If she has one.”

The article calls on Europe to “protect its own interests in a dangerous world of Trumps and Erdoğans”, and to “stand up to the migratory pressure, without turning [itself] into a fortress”. It warns of the situation in “countries such as Poland, Hungary, but also Malta”, where “the EU as a union of law is at risk”, and that “the Eurozone needs economic leadership”. Not a single sentence mentions Brexit or the United Kingdom.

German political magazine Der Spiegel identifies “the Turkey question” as most important topic of the summit. While it admits that “the […] demand for a cancellation of accession negotiations will not play a big role” due to the “lack of unanimity among EU member states”, Germany could use the planned upgrade of Turkey’s customs union with the EU as “potentially effective leverage”. The customs agreement is supposed to be widened to include agricultural and service sectors, which “hold presumably massive advantages for Turkey.” As “the mandate for negotiations [on the customs upgrade] can only be given by unanimity”, however, Germany could easily block it, Spiegel concludes.

France

An article in the French financial paper, Les Echos, argues, “Some [countries] were ready to hold out a hand to the UK by agreeing to make a start on the question of future relations, but the strong line –above all held by Berlin and Paris – won in the end.”

Le Point’s article on Brexit developments in Brussels this week is titled, “European summit: Theresa May backed into a corner.”

But as with Germany, French media attention was drawn elsewhere

Ireland

An Editorial for The Irish Times reads,

The EU has no interest in seeing the talks fail, but London’s claim that each side has as much to lose as the other is fantasy. For the EU, the worst case scenario is bad. For the UK, it’s catastrophic. While European leaders could do more to recognise the limited room for manoeuvre that Prime Minister Theresa May enjoys at home, the truth is that the British Conservative Party created its own problem by failing to level with its own public about the costs and the pain Brexit would entail…Nobody expected the [Irish Border] dilemma or the size of the divorce bill to be definitively settled by now – that will have to await the final stages of the talks in 2019 – but it’s in Ireland’s interest, and that of the EU more generally, to draw London towards a more realistic and flexible stance before moving to the next stage.

In an opinion piece for The Irish Times, Ruadhán Mac Cormaic ponders Ireland’s position in the world post-Brexit

Having hid behind the UK at the European table for 45 years, Dublin has neglected its other relationships. With the exception of farming, London was Ireland’s chief ally on all its most sensitive issues: tax, trade and financial services. Now, with the UK heading for the door, Dublin is scrambling to forge new alliances in places it never previously bothered to look. Similarly, the country’s over-reliance on the UK as an export market is forcing the State to ramp up its promotional work across Europe, Asia and Latin America….What supposedly underpins Ireland’s openness to the world – the English language – actually narrows the country’s field of vision dramatically. Brexit is going to make that more apparent than ever.

Noel Whelan, columnist for The Irish Times, writes:

The mess in British politics is far from entertaining for those watching from the sidelines in Ireland. We cannot enjoy it because ultimately the joke that is the Brexit negotiations will be at our expense. The division of the topics into these two phrases is a somewhat artificial and of itself and is an impediment to a successful outcome. No family lawyer would ever think it wise or useful to finalise the terms of the divorce without simultaneously negotiating how the separating spouses would interrelate after the break-up and what would happen to the children. More than six months after the Brexit process was formally triggered, we have not advanced much beyond a diplomatic dialogue of the deaf. The Irish Government and Northern Ireland’s politicians speak of the need to explore some kind of special status for Northern Ireland. In London, Dublin and Brussels, official and political voices do a disservice to both the use of language and public understanding of the negotiations by merely repeating mantras such as “There must be a frictionless Border” and “There can be no return to the borders of the past”. It is as if by merely chanting such phrases over and over again, they can make it happen. Restating that the Dublin Government doesn’t want a hard Border, that the London government doesn’t want a hard Border and that the EU does not want a hard Border cannot simply magic that prospect away.

An editorial by Irish Independent doesn’t hold back with its “Tory delusions mean chaotic Brexit” title. Another editorial reads “Hard border and all its problems looking likely.”

Italy

According to the left-leaning Repubblica, the summit witnessed important steps forward and there are now hopes that an agreement on the first phase can be reached by December. The newspaper nonetheless also notes that

A lot of question marks persist, which could result in any scenario in the next two years, including early elections and Labour taking ove [the] government.

Austria

“May’s U-turn on the Brexit issue”, titles Austria’s Die Presse, adding, “Her demands for a ‘hard Brexit’ have caused political pressure on her”.

Let’s hope December’s Council is more fruitful.