Rethinking Europe

Message to UK: Make up Your Mind Now

The EU’s long term interests should prevail over short term accommodation of the UK’s whims.

Credit: Adam Lang - www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The EU should carefully weigh the drawbacks of electing UK MEPs, given the considerable complications that their temporary presence will create.
  • The presence of UK MEPs -- with their own domestic agenda -- might severely impair the workings of the EU Parliament at a particularly delicate time.
  • The EU’s long term interests should prevail over short term accommodation of the UK’s whims.
  • Reform is more necessary than ever if the EU is to ensure its own survival in a fast changing multipolar world.

In light of today’s vote in the House of Commons, until April 12th, it is in the privilege of the UK to choose between three alternatives as to its future relationship with the EU:

• No deal,

• Revocation of Art.50,

• Approving Theresa May’s deal.

Any other plan would require the unanimous approval of the EU27 and of the European Parliament as well as committing the UK to elect MEPs on May 23rd.

In considering any request for an Art. 50 extension, the European Council should weigh three questions:

1. The UK’s plan for completing the Brexit process,

2. The conditionality the EU should impose in order to grant the request,

3. The impact on the EU.

The EU must stick to its principles

As part of the conditionality, the EU should reaffirm the basic principles to which it has held from the start of the negotiations and which have successfully maintained the cohesion of the 27 Member States:

• No reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement

• No negotiations on the future relationship until the Withdrawal Agreement is approved.

This would, nevertheless, allow significant amendments to the Political Declaration to incorporate, for instance, instead of aiming at a “deep, ambitious and comprehensive relationship,” a more specific desired outcome, for instance, the option emerging from the current process of “indicative votes.”

Nevertheless, as the declaration is not legally binding, the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement should remain unchanged so that a fallback position (insurance policy) — protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the EU external borders — would apply if negotiations dragged on beyond the transition period or were ultimately unsuccessful.

If the UK plan included new elections, the whole process should be suspended until after a new government took office. In this case, additional options, not necessarily resulting from the current “indicative vote” process, might be substituted provided the principles above continued to apply.

If the plan called for approving the Prime Minister’s deal together with a confirming referendum, then every effort should be made to hold it before June 30th so that elected MEPs would not be required to take their seats if “leave” was confirmed.

The UK withdrawal bill

Though of relatively trivial importance, the EU should insist that all costs and indemnities, paid to British MEPs by the European Parliament after their election, be added to the bill to be honored by the UK after its departure.

This is mainly to avoid a polemic in the public opinion, damaging to the European Parliament’s and EU’s reputation.

By imposing this conditionality, the EU will encourage the UK to ratify as soon as possible the Withdrawal agreement (or revoke Art.50) reducing commensurately the period of uncertainty that is damaging the economic prospects of both parties.

Most economic agents are already bitterly complaining about further delays in fixing the outcome of the UK’s membership of the Union.

Think about the European elections

Last but not least, the European Council and each EU Member State should carefully weigh the drawbacks of electing UK MEPs in the first place, given the considerable complications that their (temporary) presence will create.

Indeed, the premises of the campaign on which the parliamentary elections will take place will be totally different in the UK and the other Member States muddying the waters, distorting the outcomes and confusing the elector:

• In the UK, Brexit will be at the center of preoccupations with the possibility of electing 72 Eurosceptic MEPs led by Nigel Farage, voters wishing to punish Tories and Labour alike for the shambolic management of the Brexit process.

• In the rest of the EU, it is the opposition between national/populists and partisans of a more progressive and deeper EU that is the main challenge.

The realignment of political forces within the European Parliament could therefore be greatly upset by the presence of the British contingent.

This could have strong implications on the selection of the future Commission President and Commissioners, as well as the President of the ECB and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, not to mention the distribution of internal posts within the Assembly itself.

Furthermore, the presence of UK MEPs, with their own domestic agenda, might severely impair the normal workings of the Parliament at a particularly delicate point in time when reform is more necessary than ever if the EU is to ensure its own survival in a fast changing multipolar world.

These considerations should be weighed against the undoubted advantages of keeping the UK in the EU.

Conclusion

My own feeling is that — given the opportunity of remaining in the EU that the UK can trigger unilaterally prior to April 12th — no further extension implying electing UK MEPs should be contemplated.

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About Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt is former Director, EU Commission and Member of the Advisory Board of Stand Up for Europe.

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