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Open Europe's Leopold Traugott and Pieter Cleppe look at EU27 reactions to gauge in how far Theresa May's Chequers proposal may increase pressure on EU negotiators to become more flexible.
1 August 2018
The EU has remained remarkably united and steadfast in Brexit negotiations. Considering that most of the negotiations so far were on the withdrawal agreement – ensuring, for example, that the UK settles its financial obligations, and safeguarding the rights of EU citizens abroad – this is perhaps not particularly surprising. But it was also aided by the fact that it took the UK quite a while to actually come up with any clear and substantive proposals of its own. Now that Theresa May has presented her Chequers proposal, will this change the dynamics?
The reactions from European leaders, both at the national level and in the EU institutions, have been rather limited – and where they occurred, they were largely lukewarm. In the broader political debate, however, the proposal has evoked substantive feedback. While some continue to lament British cherry-picking, other business groups and politicians welcome the proposal as a constructive step forward in negotiations and call on the EU27 to reciprocate with increased flexibility.
In the Netherlands…
It is hard to find effusive endorsements of the Chequers plan across the Continent. To many politicians, business representatives and journalists, Theresa May’s proposal symbolises little more than another attempt of British cherry-picking that fails to respect EU red lines. Particularly, the British suggestion of a Facilitated Customs Arrangement fails to find much favour across the EU27.
Still, despite its flaws, there is a growing sentiment across Europe that the UK’s Chequers plan is a substantial proposal that needs to be taken seriously. Partly, because observers keep a wary eye on the domestic situation in Britain and understand that May’s scope to offer further concessions at this point is severely limited. And this at a time when the danger of a no-deal Brexit, whose economic and political fallout would not be pretty for either side, is looming ever larger.
But partly also because they see the direction of the proposal as broadly sensible – while the UK reduces its obligations (e.g. by restricting freedom of movement), it also accepts the loss of certain membership benefits (e.g. less access for services exports; rule-taker rather than rule-maker on goods). Chequers itself may not be the balance of rights and obligations the EU27 are looking for, but there is likely to be increasing pressure from within the EU27 for EU negotiators to engage seriously over what kind of bespoke agreement actually would.