LONDON — Now we know the date Prime Minister Theresa May will officially trigger Article 50 — March 29 — it is time to get realistic about the EU exit negotiations:
We can expect nothing.
While Britain’s goal in the negotiations is (presumably) to get the best deal, and the most access possible, in relation to the Single Market, the EU’s goal is the opposite of that: To punish Britain for leaving.
Making sure Britain is worse off after 2019 will deter other countries from following Britain out of the EU. The EU is therefore not interested in helping the UK, even if that might be also advantageous to the EU (i.e. by maintaining privileged access to Britain as an export market).
The proof of this came from the mouth of former Italy president Mario Monti, who spoke at a panel at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, in January. Internally, he said, the EU has organised itself to ensure that the UK is punished for leaving. On a panel with chancellor Philip Hammond, Monti said that being nice to the UK would be the equivalent of “organised suicide” for the EU:
“The chancellor and I and others were in September in Bratislava for an informal Ecofin council. At that point, there was in my view, still, a temptation in many EU member states to play the game of ‘who is nicest to the UK’ in terms of granting special status within the Single Market. That would have been an organised suicide of the European Union. And now with the clarity expressed by the prime minister and since Bratislava … I think there is now scope for a more orderly and disaggregative scope for the negotiations.”
By “disaggregative” you can assume he means negotiations that do not result in the disaggregation of the EU.
This isn’t a secret, by the way.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker helpfully said much the same thing in an interview with Bild, so we should be under no illusions: “Britain’s example will make everyone realise that it’s not worth leaving.”
With that as the context for the talks, you can see why May enters the two-year Article 50 period at a huge disadvantage: The EU would actually benefit if there were no deal at the end of the period. And because of the way the deadline in Article 50 is structured, the EU need do nothing to achieve exactly that.
Watch Mario Monti talk about the “organised suicide” of the EU, at roughly the 15:00 mark.
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This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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