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The EU27: Internal Politics and Views on Brexit

Published Friday, January 18, 2019

The other 27 EU Member States have maintained a largely united front in the Brexit negotiations. This paper examines the views of each of the EU27 on Brexit and any contingency planning for a possible no-deal Brexit. it also provides background on their internal politics and trade and economic statistics.

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Unity of the EU27 and Single Market integrity

The EU27 Member States have maintained a largely united front in the Brexit negotiations, adopting joint negotiating guidelines in April 2017 following the UK Government's Article 50 notification the previous month and mandating Michel Barnier to lead negotiations on their behalf.

Examining the positions on Brexit taken by the EU27, a number of common themes emerge, notably insistence on the integrity of the EU Single Market and an unwillingness to divide the four market freedoms (relating to goods, services, capital and people) when it comes to negotiating the future UK-EU trading relationship. This has also come alongside concerns that the new trading relationship should not enable the UK to gain a competitive advantage by retaining participation in some elements of the Single Market while no longer being required to comply with all the requirements of membership, including regulations relating to competition, the environment and labour market.

The governments of the EU's two leading Member States, France and Germany, have been influential in promoting these lines. However, other EU governments have also stressed the importance of the Single Market and the need to balance trading access with certain obligations arising out of membership, including free movement of people.

Certain Member States, notably Poland, Hungary and Italy are for varying reasons currently at loggerheads with the EU.  Both the Polish and Hungarian Governments face questions regarding their compliance with the EU’s rule of law framework and (along with Slovakia) face European Commission infringement proceedings regarding non-compliance with the EU’s refugee relocation plan. The new Italian Government has clashed with other EU governments over its calls for greater burden sharing in relation to migrant and refugee arrivals and its unwillingness to comply with Eurozone budget strictures. However, notwithstanding occasional criticisms of the EU’s approach to negotiations from government figures in these countries, these differences have not translated into any major divergences from the principal EU lines in the negotiations. This partly relates to a preoccupation among these governments with their own national priorities and a lack of coincidence with those of the UK when it comes to the Brexit negotiations.

Maintaining trade and security co-operation

EU27 governments have expressed a wish to retain a close trading relationship with the UK and a desire to avoid a 'no deal' Brexit which would be harmful to EU economies as well the UK. Retaining strong trading links with the UK is a particular consideration for those Member States with a high proportion of trade with the UK, although this is secondary to preserving the Single Market. Trade with the UK is equivalent to between 13% and 15% of GDP for Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and more than 20% for Malta and Ireland. However, for the other 21 Member States trade with the UK is equivalent to less than 6% of GDP.

While agreement on the future economic and trading relationship has proved difficult, there has been a greater level of convergence between the UK and the EU27 over continuing security co-operation. Former Soviet bloc states, including Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been particularly concerned to ensure that Brexit does not undermine the UK contribution to European security.

The first phase of negotiations

There has also been unity on the question of sequencing of the Brexit negotiations, and the need for agreement on the status and rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, the UK’s financial settlement with the EU, and the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, all of which were addressed by the Joint Report on progress in the first phase of Brexit negotiations in December 2017. The status of Member State nationals in the UK was a priority for several states with large numbers of their citizens living in the UK, notably Poland, Romania and other recent accession countries as well as Italy. Reaching agreement on the UK’s financial settlement upon withdrawal from the EU was also critical, with net recipients from the EU budget concerned about a potential loss of funds and net contributors concerned about having to make up any shortfall.

The Irish border

The critical sticking point as the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement drew to a close was the question of the Northern Ireland-Ireland border and the measures required to prevent a hard border re-emerging. Again, the EU27 have remained united on this front and supportive of Ireland's position in the negotiations. Smaller states have expressing their affinity with a fellow small state in the negotiations, while the German Government has expressed itself as a guarantor of the interests of smaller states.

Public Opinion

The EU27 governments have also been mindful of public opinion and have been boosted in this regard by increasing support for the EU in surveys. Support for EU membership has increased since the UK referendum in 2016 in countries with long-standing histories of Euro-scepticism such as Sweden and Denmark as well as more recently Euro-sceptic countries like Italy. A special Eurobarometer survey for the European Parliament published in October 2018 (based on a survey conducted in September 2018 of people aged 15+) showed majority support for EU membership in all EU Member States, although support was below 50% in both the Czech Republic and Italy (with large numbers of don't knows).

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8362

Authors: Stefano Fella; Vaughne Miller; Nigel Walker; John Curtis; Eleanor Gadd; Julie Gill; Daniel Harari; Antonia Garraway; Sylvia de Mars; Matthew Keep; Matthew Ward

Topics: Central government, Defence policy, EU budget, EU external relations, EU institutions, EU law and treaties, EU political integration, Europe, International trade, Parliament, Political parties

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