Chairman Speech

Negotiations with the United Kingdom following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the European Union

05.04.2017 - 09:00

Mr President, dear colleagues, last week we officially received the letter. It took nine months to write a letter of six pages, but finally, we received the letter. Today is the day at the European Parliament, and today’s signal is that we are ready, we can start and, hopefully, after the vote we can say we are united and we stay together in these negotiations.

First of all, I would like to thank Guy Verhofstadt for his work in preparing our resolution. The message is clear on the procedure: first, divorce, and second, the future treaty. Then we underline what should be the atmosphere in the negotiations; we want to have a fair, constructive atmosphere built on trust. We have defined our priorities regarding citizenship: do not play with the legal uncertainty of citizens. We are underlining that, for us, the Northern Ireland question is a decisive one: avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Then we have to talk about money. The top priorities are defined. Finally, we hope that London respects that the EU27 will continue. The Rome Declaration is clear and we have to talk about the future in our Union.

The point is, from our point of view, a decisive difference. It is a very fundamental question: what does leave mean? What does it mean to leave the European Union? For example, on the question of security, I heard last week that Theresa May said that they want to stay in Europol. Europol is a European Agency – it is the European Union that is organising Europol – but they want to stay. So does leave mean no further access to Europol and to the Schengen Information System, or does leave mean to stay in them?

Then we talk about the research union. Cambridge, Edinburgh, Paris and Milan are working closely together. So does this mean that, with leave, there will be no further cooperation, because at the moment the European Union is financing this?

Then there is the Single Market. Trade is positive. Does leave mean no more access to the Single Market? Does leave mean no more cooperation? I feel that London thinks they will find the perfect deal, and that means they take the positive points and they leave the negative points. I have to clarify that this will not happen. Cherry-picking will not happen. A state outside the European Union cannot have the same, or better, conditions than a state inside this European Union.

Dear colleagues, what are we actually doing here? For example, Northern Ireland: we now have many worried colleagues from Belfast who fear that the peace process is under pressure, that we will potentially take a step backwards. Or Gibraltar - you might laugh about the fact that over the last few days a possible war was discussed. But actually the Prime Minister of a big country, namely Great Britain, felt the need to clarify that there wasn’t any military activity. How did we get there? What are we talking about? I must say: have we lost our senses?

We should have to talk about digitalisation, about the security issues facing our continent, not about debates that belong in previous decades. This shows our discussions are moving entirely in the wrong direction, one pressed on us by nationalists and populists.

And I also want to tell the Spanish and Irish that, this time, it’s a different situation. Because, for example, the Irish won’t need to enforce their interests against London alone. And the Spanish too can rely on the fact that they will not stand alone against London where Gibraltar is concerned. We will have the opportunity to show that the EU27 is a big family and sticks together, that the Irish interests are not only Irish but European, that the Spanish interests are also European interests.

Lastly: leaving the European Union. Theresa May said: “It’s not leaving Europe.” This may be true at the personal level, as concerns relationships between people. We remain friends, that’s for sure. But the idea of the European Union is one of cooperation. In the future, Great Britain won’t sit at the table when Foreign Ministers debate the situation in Syria. They won’t sit at the table when we debate Ukraine. This means of course that Great Britain leaves the political concept of Europe, and that is unfortunately very, very negative.

It’s positive that at the end of the day we will stay partners and friends. But Great Britain must prepare itself for tough negotiations with the European Union.

(Part transcription from the original in English, part translation from German)

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