26 November 2018

At a special European Council summit held on November 25, the leaders of the EU27 member states approved the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on future UK-EU relations. The deal will now head to the UK House of Commons, for a crucial vote on December 11 which will determine the future of Brexit negotiations.

European politicians expressed regret at the UK’s withdrawal. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Brexit a “moment of deep sadness” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “tragic.” President Macron suggested it was a time to rethink the foundations of Europe.

At the same time, the EU were united in their suggestion that the deal agreed at the summit is the only one on the table, and excluded the possibility of renegotiating some of its aspects in case the UK Parliament votes it down. Juncker said this was “the best deal possible,” adding, “the European Union will not change its fundamental position when it comes to this issue.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that there was no “plan B” and that this deal was “the maximum” that negotiators could achieve. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “It’s going to become more and more obvious that the alternative to this deal is a no-deal scenario.”

Given these circumstances, most comments in the European press note that Sunday’s summit was just a first step, and that the difficult path of ratification and negotiations on the future relationship still lies ahead.

France 🇫🇷

Centre-left daily Le Monde notes, “Even if the official endorsement given by the EU to the [Withdrawal] text on Sunday changes the landscape, Theresa May is no longer just the woman of duty who rushes to get an impossible deal. It is a Prime Minister who claims to turn the poisoned page of Brexit to ‘avoid jumping off the cliff’ of Dover.”

Business newspaper Les Échos warns that “the main obstacle is to come,” describing the vote in the UK Parliament as the “moment of truth… In case of a rejection, the fragile house of cards will fall apart, without anyone being able to anticipate what follows.” It concludes that in this battle, the EU27 retain their biggest advantage: “their unity which held well until the end.”

According to centre-right Le Figaro, “a new period of great uncertainty” is coming to Brussels as “everyone has their eyes fixed on London.”

Meanwhile, Libération comments that on Sunday, it was clear that there are many disputes to come. Macron mentioned the fishing issue, while the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, needed reassurances over the status of Gibraltar. The paper notes,

The UK has four months until leaving the EU and already the tensions are mounting. Mark Rutte has already said it: ‘Nobody is a winner, everyone loses.’

Using the headline An amicable divorce which is far from solving everything, daily newspaper Le Parisien argues that the transition period will “without a doubt” have to be extended as it “will not solve everything” in time for the future relationship.


Germany 🇩🇪

The weekly Der Spiegel writes, “Unfortunately the most important question about the future strategic relationship has not been addressed. Even with the Brexit divorce, not much has been settled. And the cause is not the lack of clarity in many aspects or the need to guarantee a majority in the British Parliament in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement.”  It adds, “A broader question remains about what the European continent will do after March 29, 2019. It is time for the remaining 27 member states to clarify what will be the future relationship with the UK.”

Meanwhile, Die Zeit states, “Rarely have the Europeans appeared more united than with Brexit. The fact that Europe that has been accused of becoming more stubborn, non-transparent and bureaucratic has achieved an agreement with the UK should be considered an impressive success. The EU has avoided chaos and handled the first phase of the Brexit negotiations very well. However, above all, what follows will be more difficult to handle. Now the decision lies with the British Parliament and whether they accept this fair compromise.”

In centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, an article argues,

Except for the pride shown in concluding the negotiations, there is a clear message that the remaining 27 European member states want to project unity among them and harshness to the others.

Austria 🇦🇹

Centre-left daily Die Presse argues that Brexit has also had a positive side for the EU. It explains, “European approval ratings are at 62%, the highest since 1992. Even those who are particularly critical of the EU do not want to experience the chaos of the exit negotiations that has convulsed the UK for the past two years. At the same time, EU criticism has not waned, since the EU treatment of the migration crisis was rightfully criticised.”


Belgium 🇧🇪

Liberal daily Le Soir calls yesterday’s events “Black Sunday,” asking whether the upcoming vote in the House of Commons would cause “the collapse of the house of cards.”

“Now the real test still needs to happen for the Brexit deal,” as the UK Parliament will vote on it, Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws reports.


Netherlands 🇳🇱

Dutch daily NRC comments that “splits within the EU…can already be noticed,” referring to the Spanish Prime Minister’s threat to “veto” the deal over Gibraltar. The newspaper adds that “the EU… takes into account a failure of the Withdrawal Agreement in the British parliament. Plans are ready to prevent chaos in case of a no deal, the leaders assure.”

Source: VoxEurop

Spain 🇪🇸

Centre-left national daily El Pais argues, “The [UK] government did the opposite of what it promised. The Withdrawal Agreement stipulates that during the transition period Britain will remain in a terminal transition period over the backstop. The deceptions to the British people do not stop there: May promised that Brexit would be a clean and rapid process and that the EU27 would be divided during that, and both statements have do not stand… Compared to remaining in the EU, this position is humiliating and ominous for the UK.”

Elsewhere, centre-right daily El Mundo writes,

More than a political challenge that can be solved through a diplomatic agreement, Brexit is a radical change of course of the links that have united the British and Europeans for the past century and required many years and generations to solidify.

Italy 🇮🇹

In Il Messaggero, former European Commission President Romano Prodi writes that “the path will still be long,” adding, “the most complicated part of the divorce has not begun,” and pointing to the divisions in the UK Parliament. He adds that Brexit negotiations are a “never ending process which is already influencing the British economy,” concluding, “Absolute sovereignty, invoked by supporters of Brexit…will show its limitations. No European country can resist the competition of the world’s giants on its own.”

According to Il Sole 24 Ore, things are not looking so well for the future of the EU. It notes that there is a “terrible preoccupation that the exit of the UK represents for the EU the beginning of the end, a moment which brings back into question the entire community. The prospective for the continent…would risk being marked by the return of conflicts which have historically characterised Europe.”

An op-ed in liberal La Repubblica warns about the lessons of Brexit for Italy, saying, “The price paid for Brexit is already high and is growing. [Deputy Prime Ministers] Matteo Salvini and [Luigi] Di Maio would do better to reflect” on how to conduct negotiations with the EU over Italy’s budget proposals.

Meanwhile, a piece in centrist Corriere della Sera asks, “and if the [Brexit] agreement was a step forward for everyone else?” suggesting that the negotiations have had the benefit of “making the Brussels negotiators outline what are the inalienable rules of the Union.”


Ireland 🇮🇪

In an editorial, the Irish Independent warns that Theresa May “faces a big battle,” adding that she “has shown considerable political courage over the past fortnight and gained kudos from the British public as a result. It is clear she will fight this one all the way despite heavy odds against her succeeding.” The paper also notes,

The draft deal is a good outcome for Ireland in a very difficult situation not of this country’s making. The politicians and diplomats who helped deliver it are to be commended…However, if this deal does not win the necessary ratification in London, it is of no practical use to Ireland. So everyone in this country will wish Theresa May a fair wind.

Poland 🇵🇱

Polish daily Rzeczpospolita notes that for Poland, the agreement on citizens’ rights and on the financial settlement is key, “because Poles are the largest group of EU citizens in the UK…and Poland is one of the largest beneficiaries of the EU budget.” It adds, “Everyone in the EU would like these relations to be as close as possible, while maintaining certain rules, such as participation in the internal market in exchange for respecting the basic EU freedoms of movement of people, goods, services and capital. Since London rejects such a model, it must face limited access to the market.”


Greece 🇬🇷

A piece in Greek daily Kathimerini states, “The city of London will lose a great deal of its power and influence and the shock will be immense for both the UK and Europe. It will be like separating New York from the US… The British people and part of the British elite do not realise that national self-determination does not exist in a globalised era, where world economies are deeply connected.”