On December 15 last year, the European Council decided to move forward to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. There is now a new calendar for actions at all levels: technical, political, institutional.
It is clear, taking into account the much higher complexity of the challenge ahead, compared with what is behind us, and the limited time available, that different Brexit-related actions must be carried on in parallel and with a high intensity. Serious cooperation between the two parties is a must. I am thinking here of moving rather fast towards providing a legal text of the withdrawal agreement. On the EU side, this document needs consultations with member states and the European Parliament.
I am also thinking here of preparing new negotiating directives or, if you wish, the new mandate. There is also the question of finding agreement with UK on the format for further negotiations taking into account lessons learnt so far and the need to agree on the timeline for those negotiations.
On the EU side, we must spare no effort to ensure the continuation of unity among institutions and member states in discussions on transition solutions and the future framework. The hitherto transparent and multidimensional effort at both technical and political level, seminars and technical meetings has proved to be an excellent approach.
It would be easier if we could have certainty at this stage about the future scenario. Unfortunately, in particular in the context of the political situation in UK, we cannot abandon preparation for a ‘no deal’ scenario – even if such a scenario is in nobody’s interests. Certainty will come probably just a couple of weeks before the planned withdrawal.
Even though ‘sufficient progress’ has been declared, we know that on many separation-related issues there has been no agreement reached yet. And some of the issues have not been discussed yet. It will be important for the British side to give a high priority treatment to those issues. There is no more time for continuing the listening mode during the UK-EU talks.
A truly large issue that remains, and is seen as of great relevance by the European Parliament, is the governance of the whole withdrawal process and of its parts. This will be a crucial part of the withdrawal agreement and is fundamental in many ways. And it will be too in the context of the acquis-prolongation approach to transition and the specificities of the British withdrawal bill. Whether the governance mechanism should be different for the transition and for the future is a big open question.
Of course, the negotiations and Brexit as such have an impact on the situation of the EFTA countries, and in more general terms on the functioning of the EEA. This has been in particular relevant regarding the citizens’ rights issues. It also goes without saying the transition arrangements will impact EFTA countries and EEA functioning.
A ‘mission impossible’ open issue is the lack of legal certainty before the formal adoption of the withdrawal agreement. This is particularly painful for citizens.
Prof Danuta Hübner MEP is Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs and former European Commissioner for Regional Policy. She is Advisory Board Member of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.