EU Reviews Draft Negotiating Guidelines as Brexit Begins

6 April 2017

The European Council is considering “draft guidelines” for how they will proceed in the Brexit talks with the United Kingdom, including on a future trade deal between the two sides.

The draft guidelines were circulated to EU delegations just a few days after UK Prime Minister Theresa May submitted a letter triggering Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, which involves the exiting of an EU member. (See Bridges Weekly, 30 March 2017)

“Our duty is to minimise the uncertainty and disruption caused by the UK decision to withdraw from the EU for our citizens, businesses, and member states. As I have already said, in essence it is about damage control,” said European Council President Donald Tusk last week in announcing these guidelines.

“The EU does not and will not pursue a punitive approach. Brexit in itself is already punitive enough. After more than forty years of being united, we owe it to each other to do everything we can to make this divorce as smooth as possible,” said Tusk.

Talks on future relationship plans after withdrawal “progress”
The draft guidelines, which have been circulated in full by various media outlets, are split into two overarching sections. These and their subsections detail the core principles that the EU-27 plans to follow, as well as the “phased approach” that the group is looking to pursue going forward.

Regarding this phased approach, the draft guidelines refer to two main parts: withdrawing the UK from the EU framework, and preparing a plan for how to then negotiate the UK’s new relationship with the bloc.

“While an agreement on a future relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom as such can only be concluded once the United Kingdom has become a third country, Article 50 [of the Treaty of the European Union] requires to take account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union in the arrangements of withdrawal,” the draft guidelines say, according to a copy published by The Telegraph.

Furthermore, they indicate that the EU will be ready to have such talks once they have seen “sufficient progress” on the withdrawal negotiations. The draft guidelines further refer to the option of time-bound, enforceable “transitional” arrangements where necessary, with some media reports suggesting that negotiators are informally examining options such as a tariff-free goods deal as part of this transition.

Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have both backed the concept of progressing first on the withdrawal and later on the future relationship, rather than holding those talks side by side as advocated by May.

“The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship,” said the German leader last week.

The draft guidelines also say that the Brexit talks “will be conducted as a single package,” meaning that negotiators will not be able to extricate individual areas for early agreement, but will instead need to conclude them all collectively.

Coming up

The leaders of the other 27 EU member states are due to meet under the European Council framework on 29 April, at which point they are slated to endorse a final version of these guidelines, which could see some modifications from this edition.

Talks are expected to begin in earnest in June, officials say, with a view to reaching a deal that can then be ratified within the two-year timeframe envisioned under Article 50. This timeframe can be extended should all parties agree.

On the EU side, the European Parliament will have a vote on the final deal. Members of the EU legislative body held a debate and vote this week on what their priorities would be in the Brexit process, with their debate highlighting concerns such as ensuring the UK honours its pending obligations that it has undertaken as an EU member, along with prioritising and ensuring the fair treatment of UK citizens in the EU and vice versa.

Another topic that lawmakers brought up in the debate was ensuring that there are “no separate negotiations with individual EU countries or non-EU countries,” according to a Parliament press release. While UK officials have been exploring options for post-Brexit trade deals with non-EU partners, those talks have all been at the informal level, given that formal negotiations cannot begin while the UK is still an EU member. (For more on this subject, see related story, this edition)

ICTSD reporting; “In full: The EU’s draft guidelines for Brexit negotiations,” THE TELEGRAPH, 31 March 2017; “May urged to assess impact of leaving EU without deal,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 4 April 2017; “May suggests unrestricted EU migration will continue post-Brexit,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 5 April 2017; “EU offers pre-Brexit trade talks,” REUTERS, 31 March 2017; “Brexit: EU says no to free trade talks until ‘progress’ on final terms,” THE GUARDIAN, 31 March 2017; “Interim EU trade deal could hit UK services hard,” POLITICO, 2 April 2017. 

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