There has been a long period of back and forth, but today, on the 31st of January, the exit of Great Britain from the EU has become a reality. Subsequent to the European Parliament voting in favour of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement on Wednesday, the 29th of January, nothing else stood in the way of the exit date at the end of January. However, only the coming months will show how the EU and Great Britain will reorganise their relationship.
After Great Britain’s exit has come into force on 31st January, a transition period will begin, which will last until 31st December 2020. However, this may be extended by 1-2 years, if Great Britain applies for such an extension by 1st July 2020. Only once the transition period has expired on 31st December 2020, European and British Citizens will become actively aware of the direct impact of Brexit. Until then, the EU and Great Britain will negotiate the future relationship in form of a trade agreement. It is expected that the European Council will confirm the required negotiation mandate on 25th February. After that, the EU Commission can start negotiations.
What happens next?
According to various statements, the EU Commission attaches particular importance to retaining the EU’s high level of protection, which until recently Great Britain also had to adhere to. Apart from that, the scope of the negotiations will be unique since the issues reach from trade, security, foreign policy via fishery to cultural and education policy relationships. The fact that only eleven months have been set aside, represents a mammoth task for both sides, not to mention the fact that rush job solutions might be on the cards. Safeguards exist only in a few cases if no agreement can be reached. Even though Norther Ireland remains part of the British customs area, the relevant rules of EU law will continue to be applied and the ECJ remains responsible. According to the announcement of EU Chief Negotiator Barnier, in future, controls will take place at the external borders of the island of Ireland.
From the AK’s point of view, it is important that the negotiations do not engage in a race to the bottom. The rights of employees and consumers have to be developed both in Great Britain and in the EU and must not be restricted. To achieve this, the future trade relation needs a binding clause to protect employees, consumers and the environment and thus fair competition. It must be possible to impose effective sanctions on these aspects. It is also important that services are subject to the rules of the country, in which the service is rendered, and that no special suing rights for companies are created within the framework of an investor-state dispute settlement. This would go directly against the EU Commission’s target to achieve high standards.
Trade unions in Great Britain and the EU are also warning of the dangers accompanied by Brexit. In particular the rights of employees are in danger of being further watered down. Hence, they insist on a guarantee that the fundamental British labour standards remain at the same level as those of the EU. Currently, many labour rights are safeguarded by European legislative acts and ECJ rulings.
The transition phase
The 31st of January marks the day after which there is no going back. Should Great Britain wish to become part of the EU again, a completely new accession procedure would have to begin. However, the greatest change is that British people seize to be EU citizens. They - and conversely EU citizens in Great Britain - continue to have the right to live, work and study in other EU States on equal terms. Nevertheless, they are obliged to apply in due time for Settled Status. During the transition period and for further 8 years, the European Court of Justice remains responsible for the rights of citizens. A transition period applies until the end of 2020. During this time, Great Britain has to adhere to all laws of the EU but no longer has a say in European Institutions.
With the withdrawal of 73 British MEPs, the European Parliament will reallocate all vacated seats. 46 will remain vacant for future EU expansions, which means that the EU Parliament will now be scaled down to 705 seats. The remaining 27 will be allocated to 14 Member States, including Austria. Austria receives a 19th mandate, which due to the result of the EU vote last year will go to the Greens. It will be occupied by Thomas Waitz, organic farmer and already experienced MEP. Overall, the European People’s Party will gain 5 seats and the ID faction three seats (thereby becoming the fourth largest faction). All other factions will lose seats: the Social Democrat S&D five, the liberal Renew eleven, the Green faction seven, the ECR faction three and the Left faction one. 27 British MEPs did not belong to a faction, hence, they have no impact on the factions. The team of the EU Commission will not see any changes since Great Britain did not appoint any new Commissioner last autumn.