Michel Barnier gives speech on Brexit at the "Cercle Royal Gaulois Artistique & Littéraire"


The 15th of last September the “Cercle Royal Gaulois Artistique & Littéraire” organized a lunch debate with the Chief Negotiator of the EU on Brexit and former Commissioner Mr. Michel Barnier. The subject was the progress of the talks between the EU and the UK delegations Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier gives speech at “Cercle Royal Gaulois Artistique & Littéraire”.

As our Belgian members certainly know, the “Cercle Royal Gaulois”, founded in the 19th Century, is one of Brussels’ most prestigious private clubs. Government Officials, Ambassadors, MPs, Magistrates, University Professors, Business Leaders, Artists and Writers meet regularly there, in the heart of the Parc Royal in Brussels in order to discuss issues of interest in a convenient environment. Thanks to the membership of our Director General Prof. Dr. Koutroubas, who was in Malta that day meeting the Minister for Education and Employment Mr. Evarist Bartolo for our Centre of Excellence, CEPLIS was able to participate in this event through our Policy Advisor Jr. Mr. Vincent Stoefs, who was exceptionally authorized to attend a debate exclusive only to the members of the Club.

In the following lines you will find a short summary of what can be published from Mr. Barnier’s speech.

Mr. Barnier began by explaining the reasons for which, in his view, the United-Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. He drew a parallel between Brexit and the success of Marine Le Pen and her “National Front” party in France. According to Mr. Barnier, Europe should focus on its the future rather than on the question of Brexit.

The former Commissioner compared a list predicting the top 10 economies in the world based on GDP in 2030 and 2050 with a list of the top 10 economies in the world of 2014. He insisted that if Europe wants to be amongst the strongest economies in the world, the only solution is for it to stay unified. A closer union is, according to him, the only viable solution. Otherwise, the only European economy that will still figure within the top 10 by 2050 will be Germany’s. A united Europe could be the 3rd most important economy in the world by 2050.

Mr. Barnier compared Brexit to a divorce where at first there is a separation period, then a period of adaptation and, at the end, a third phase where a new collaboration between the two partners emerge. A divorce is never pleasant, it entails costs for both sides, and sometimes different points of view are irreconcilable. But the British people voted to leave, and Europe must accept the outcome of the referendum.

Barnier then outlined the different issues to be discussed during the negotiations. Amongst them is the question of the UK leaving EURATOM and the critical question of European citizens living in the UK, whose rights must be secured. Many people are going to be affected by Brexit, and it is important to get through the first phase of the negotiations, a phase marred by uncertainty.

Barnier added that borders are going to play a key role in the negotiations. For example, there is the question of what will happen to the two British sovereign base areas located in Cyprus called Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which remain under British control according to the London and Zurich Agreements. There is also the issue of the border between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The open border between the two countries, which forms a kind of Schengen area, will now require a solution that inserts some form of border control without putting up a hard border between the two countries.

He then addresses the question of the UK’s involvement in different policies at the European level. As you know, when a policy is adopted at the European level each Member State must act according to its commitment to finance it over a period of several years. The UK will not be an exception to this rule, stated Mr. Barnier, who clarified that this was not done in the spirit of revenge; it is simply a matter of settling accounts.

For the Chief Negotiator, the future relationship between the EU and the UK can only flourish if London respects the agreements, the budgets, and the reimbursements it has previously agreed to. This is essential in order to maintain confidence between the different stakeholders.

The future of the relationship between the two parties remains uncertain. What will the nature of the collaboration between UK and Europe be after the conclusion of the negotiations? Will it be like the one with Norway for example, who is a part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA)? Or will it instead be like the one with Turkey, who has a Customs Union agreement with the EU? The negotiations in those cases were easier because the aim was trying to bring closer the two parties concerned as much as possible. On the contrary, the negotiations with the UK are now trying to forge a more distant relationship.

To conclude, Barnier reiterated the imperative to preserve the integrity of the Single Market, the pillar upon which the Union rests. For him, Britain’s departure from the European Union must not, under any circumstances, be financed by the EU.




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