Future EU-UK Partnership: Question and Answers on the negotiating directive

What has the Council adopted today? (25.2.2020)

The General Affairs Council has today adopted a decision, as expected, to authorise the opening of the future partnership negotiations with the United Kingdom and the associated negotiating directives.

The negotiating directives adopted today are based on the draft recommendation put forward by the Commission on 3 February 2020. They fully respect existing European Council guidelines and conclusions, as well as the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom in October 2019.

What did the Commission adopt previously?

The European Commission adopted on 3 February 2020 a recommendation to the Council to authorise it to open negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in accordance with Articles 218(3) and (4) TFEU and Article 101 EAEC.

This recommendation was based on existing European Council guidelines and conclusions, as well as the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom in October 2019. It included a comprehensive proposal for negotiating directives, defining the scope and terms of the future partnership that the European Union envisages with the United Kingdom.

What is the scope of these negotiating directives?

In line with the European Council guidelines of 23 March 2018 and the European Council conclusions of 13 December 2019, the directives cover all areas of interest for the negotiations, including trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, participation in Union programmes and other thematic areas of cooperation. A dedicated chapter on governance provides an outline for an overall governance framework covering all areas of economic and security cooperation.

Have you agreed with the United Kingdom yet about practical arrangements for the negotiations, such as language regime?

Practical issues, such as language regime and negotiation structure, will be agreed jointly between the EU and UK negotiators.

When will negotiations start?

Formal negotiations with the United Kingdom are set to begin the week of 2 March 2020.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Can you really negotiate everything by the end of the year?

The Commission intends to achieve as much as possible during the transition period. We are ready to work 24/7 to make the best out of the negotiations. It is possible to extend the transition period by 1 to 2 years. This decision must be taken jointly by the EU and the UK before 1 July.

Extending the transition period: if no decision is taken by July 2020, surely there is an alternative mechanism, if needs be?

If no decision has been taken by the Joint Committee before July 2020, there is no other legal basis for extending the transition beyond 2020.

Is there still a risk of a “no-deal” scenario at the end of the year?

As in every negotiation, the risk of not reaching an agreement is there. Regardless of whether a future partnership will be in place, all businesses need to prepare now for the end of the transition period, as the UK will no longer be in the Single Market or the Customs Union.

Will all issues in the negotiating directives be negotiated in parallel?

We will work on all topics in parallel. We will be particularly vigilant to progress in areas where the risk of disruption at the end of the transition period is particularly high, in case no agreement has been reached.

Why was this legal basis chosen for the negotiations? Does that mean that the agreement does not need to be approved by national parliaments?

Given the scope of the envisaged partnership, at this stage, the choice of Article 217 of TFEU as a legal basis is the most natural since it is the widest legal basis possible. It is also suitable in order to provide for an overarching governance framework, which is one of the EU’s objectives. Obviously, the legal basis can only be final once we know the content of the final agreement. What is important is to ensure that the future agreement can enter into force on 1 January 2021.

Will there be one agreement or several agreements?

The aim is to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive partnership with the United Kingdom that can enter into force by the end of the transition period. The Commission’s intention is to negotiate that partnership as a package that comprises three main components:

 general arrangements (including provisions on basic values, essential principles and on governance);


 economic arrangements (including provisions on trade, level playing field guarantees and fisheries); and


 security arrangements (including provisions on law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, as well as on foreign policy, security and defence).

Will the new partnership be an ‘association agreement’ and how will such an agreement be ratified?

‘Association agreement’ is the term used in Article 217 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union for an agreement ‘establishing an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedure’. Article 217 TFEU allows for the closest possible partnership with a country that is not an EU member. There are many different types of association agreement, but what they all have in common is their comprehensive nature and the fact that they establish a long-term institutional framework.

An association agreement must be approved by unanimity in the Council and requires the consent of the European Parliament before it can enter into force. Whether the future partnership must be ratified by national parliaments depends on its final content and can only be determined at the end of the negotiations.

How will you ensure unity during these negotiations?

Just as with the Article 50 negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the Commission will conduct these negotiations in continuous coordination with the Council and its preparatory bodies. It will consult and report to the preparatory bodies of the Council in a timely manner, and will provide all the necessary information and documents relating to the negotiations.

The Commission will also keep the European Parliament fully informed of the negotiations. For Common Foreign and Security Policy matters, the Commission will furthermore conduct negotiations in agreement with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Will EU negotiating positions be made public?

Yes, the Commission’s aim will be to ensure full transparency. This is also why the Commission made its recommendation public.

What is the purpose of the High-Level Conference between the EU and the UK in June 2020?

The High-Level Conference in June, as foreseen by the Withdrawal Agreement, aims to take stock of the progress in negotiations. The Commission will also use the Conference to take stock of the state of implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, in particular when it comes to citizens’ rights and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Will the future agreement supersede the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland?

Unlike earlier versions, the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed in October 2019 and which is a part of the Withdrawal Agreement is not a “backstop”. It was conceived as a stable and lasting solution. The Protocol will apply alongside any agreement on the future relationship.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the terms of the future trading relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom – in terms of the shared ambition to have zero customs duties and quotas between the EU and the United Kingdom – will have some bearing on the practical application of the Protocol.

GOVERNANCE

How to ensure effective implementation of any future agreement?

For the agreement to be correctly implemented and applied, there must be effective governance arrangements with credible enforcement and compliance mechanisms, as of 1 January 2021. Where the future partnership relies on EU law, there must be a role for the European Court of Justice. Only the European Court of Justice can interpret EU law.

What would happen if the United Kingdom were to breach the future agreement?

Many international treaties have rules on how disputes between the parties must be resolved. The future agreement should also have such rules. The typical process is that the parties must first attempt to resolve their differences amicably through a process of ‘consultations’. If those attempts are unsuccessful, the dispute may be brought before an arbitration panel for a binding ruling.

If a party continues to infringe the agreement, the other party can take action to safeguard its interests and to urge compliance. In certain situations, there should be a possibility for a party to act quickly to avoid irreparable harm. An important part of the negotiations with the United Kingdom will be about making sure that the rules governing disputes between the parties are clear and effective and that breaches can be remedied quickly.

What will be the role of the European Court of Justice?

The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter when it comes to the interpretation and application of rules of Union law. The future agreement must respect this by making sure that no other court, tribunal or arbitration panel set up by the parties may encroach upon the role of the Court of Justice.

The precise role of the European Court of Justice under the future agreement will depend on the content of the future relationship with the United Kingdom.

Will there be sanctions if the UK does not play by the rules?

We are looking at the best possible safeguards to allow for a quick reaction and protection of the EU’s interests. The precise details and scope of the overall governance framework will depend on the content of the future relationship.

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