Following the important events at the end of last year (Joint UK/EU Report from 8.12. and go-ahead for the start of Phase 2 of the negotiations at the European Council from 15.12.2017), the new year sees Brexit negotiations gaining pace again. From the AK’s point of view, the success of the negotiations depends on whether a future agreement between the EU and United Kingdom will ensure sufficient protection of employees, consumers and the environment.
During this Parliamentary Committee Week (22.-25.1.2018), three Parliamentary Committees debated Brexit at once. In the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit Coordinator of the EU Parliament, spoke about the state of the negotiations and priorities from the Parliament's point of view. The three main priorities he mentioned were citizens’ rights, the transitional arrangements and the negotiations on the agreement on future cooperation, starting in March.
With regard to citizens’ rights, Verhofstadt is in favour of a process where the rights of citizens are as far as possible transferred automatically by the Withdrawal Agreement. Any costs for application procedures by individual citizens should be avoided. Regarding the transition period from 30.3.2019 to 31.12.2020, Verhofstadt emphasises the approach, according to which any “cherry picking” by the United Kingdom during the transition period should not be permitted. The entire EU law acquis will also applicable to the United Kingdom. However, during the transition period, the UK will no longer be represented in the European institutions and would therefore no longer have any opportunity to influence the design of the acquis.
The commitment to the entire EU acquis and the refusal to allow “cherry picking” are to be welcomed from the perspective of employees. However, from AK’s point of view, the focus should be broadened with regard to obliging the United Kingdom after the withdrawal date to continue adhering to EU standards to avoid an unfair race to the bottom.
According to Verhofstadt, the agreement on future cooperation should become an association agreement pursuant to Art. 217 TFEU and consist of 4 pillars (1: Trade/Economy, 2: Thematic Cooperation, e.g. Education and Research, 3: Internal Affairs, 4: Foreign Policy and Defence). An EP Resolution, which has been scheduled for March, will include more details. Legally, apart from the Withdrawal Agreement, the transitional arrangements shall also become part of the Withdrawal Agreement; a political declaration on future relations will be added, which from the Council’s point of view should already include as many details as possible.
This week, the EU Parliament also voted on how to deal with the United Kingdom’s EP mandates. The competent AFCO Committee voted in favour of reducing the EP seats from 751 to 705. From May 2019, 46 of the so far 73 UK’s seats should remain vacant; 27 would be allocated to other Member States: Austria too belongs to the Member States, which, due to the new allocation of mandates, would gain one extra seat in the EU Parliament.
Since January, the EU27 internal working group has started discussing individual thematic dossiers and published relevant first discussion papers, for example on air traffic, fisheries, security, defence and foreign policy, cooperation in criminal law and on the overarching issue of governance. Next week, (30.1.18) the working group will deal for the first time with the sensible issue of financial services. Also next week (29.1.18), the Genaral Affairs Council will decide on negotiating guidelines for the transition period.
The next big milestone for the negotiations is the European Council on 22/23 March 2018, where the heads of state and government will decide on the negotiating guidelines for phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations (transition period and agreement on future cooperation). Prior to this, the already mentioned Resolution in the EP plenum has been scheduled for 8 March. In this resolution the Parliament will describe in more detail its vision for the future cooperation between the United Kingdom and the EU.