sexta-feira, 10 de fevereiro de 2017

The multi-billion-euro exit charge that could sink Brexit talks / Independent Scotland 'would have to apply for EU membership'

The multi-billion-euro exit charge that could sink Brexit talks
A bitter argument over money looms

From the print edition | Britain
Feb 11th 2017 | BRUSSELS

THE mother of parliaments has spoken. On February 8th a large majority of MPs backed a bill authorising the government to begin Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union by triggering Article 50 of the EU treaty. (A few dissenters were told off for singing “Ode to Joy”, the EU’s anthem, in the chamber.) After approval from the Lords, it should become law in March. But a different sort of Brexit bill is approaching, and will be harder to manage. It could yet scupper the whole process.

Before Britain’s referendum last June, Leave campaigners promised voters that Brexit would save the taxpayer £350m ($440m) a week. That pledge was always tendentious. But officials in Brussels are drawing up a bill for departure that could mean Britain’s contributions remain close to its membership dues for several years after it leaves. In a new report for the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank, Alex Barker, a Financial Times correspondent, puts the figure at anything between €24.5bn ($26.1bn) and €72.8bn.
The bill comprises three main elements. All, in Brussels’s view, derive from the legal obligations implied by Britain’s EU membership. The first, and largest, covers the gap between payments made in the EU’s annual budget and the larger “commitments” made under its seven-year budgetary framework, approved by Britain and the 27 other EU governments. This overhang has been steadily growing. Britain’s share of what Eurocrats call the reste à liquider (or amount yet to be paid) would be around €29.2bn, Mr Barker estimates.
The second element covers investment commitments to be executed after Britain leaves the EU in 2019. Most of this is “cohesion” funding for poorer countries (think motorways in Poland). Mr Barker reckons Britain’s share could amount to €17.4bn. The government will struggle to explain why voters should be on the hook for payments made after Brexit. But the European Commission will argue that Britain’s approval of the current budget, which runs until 2020, obliges it to cough up.

Pensions make up the third component. The liabilities for the EU’s unfunded scheme stand at over €60bn. Britain may be prepared to cover its own nationals. But European officials insist that all liabilities are a joint responsibility, as Eurocrats work for the EU, not their national governments. This may be the fiercest row of all.

Brussels’s demand will combine these three elements with a few miscellaneous items, and may adjust for Britain’s share of EU assets, its budget rebate and payments it is due from the EU (see chart).

Michel Barnier, who will lead negotiations on behalf of the commission, is said to consider that the bill stands between €40bn and €60bn. The upper figure has anchored debate in Brussels, but attracts few takers in London. Some Brexiteers believe Britain has no obligation to pay anything at all once it leaves. If a compromise cannot be reached, Britain might find itself hauled before the International Court of Justice. The talks may be over almost before they have begun.

Sequencing presents a second problem. Mr Barnier insists on settling the bill and other divorce terms before substantial talks on the much bigger matter of a post-Brexit settlement, including a trade deal, can begin. But British officials want to negotiate in parallel, and perhaps to link the departure sum to the degree of access Britain will enjoy to the EU’s single market after it leaves. The law lends Britain half a hand: Article 50 says that a departing country’s withdrawal agreement shall take account of “the framework for its future relationship” with the EU. But hardliners like France insist on keeping the two issues apart. And with only two years to conclude an Article 50 deal, Britain cannot waste time talking about talks.

Some British officials note that the other EU governments can tweak Mr Barnier’s negotiating guidelines if they find his line too tough. Britain might seek to exploit this by offering sweeteners: defence co-operation with the Baltics, perhaps, or infrastructure grants to Poland. The trouble is that reducing Britain’s bill means cuts to the overall budget, which would irk countries that do well from it, or extra payments from the wealthier governments to make up the shortfall. That creates an unusual alignment of interests among the 27. “If there’s one thing net payers and net recipients agree on, it’s to make the bill for Britain as high as possible,” says an EU official.

Most governments do not rule out a compromise. German officials, for example, will consider opening trade talks before the divorce is settled, so long as Britain accepts the principle that it has obligations that extend beyond its departure. As for the figure itself, like all EU budgetary negotiations it will be resolved via late-night Brussels summitry. “It’s like buying a carpet in Morocco,” says Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU Council’s legal service. “The figures are always negotiable.”

But there are reasons to fear a breakdown. Theresa May, the prime minister, has done little to prepare voters for this debate. Neither her speeches nor the government’s white paper on Brexit have said anything about an exit payment. A whopping financial demand will therefore inflame Britain’s tabloids, limiting her room for manoeuvre. More worryingly, both sides believe they hold the whip hand. British officials think the hole Brexit blows in the EU’s budget will force the Europeans into compromise for fear of getting nothing if the talks derail. EU officials, for their part, are convinced that the prospect of no withdrawal agreement, and therefore no trade deal, will terrify Britain into submission. “They’ll be begging on their knees at the WTO,” says one.

The EU is skilled at brokering compromise on budgets. Perhaps that will prove true for the Article 50 talks, too. But two things set the upcoming negotiation aside. First, there is no precedent. Second, goodwill towards Britain has largely evaporated; it will be negotiating with the EU as a third country, not a partner. Informal meetings between British and European officials have already witnessed blazing rows. About the only thing the sides agree on is that they may be heading for deadlock.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline "From Brussels with love"

Independent Scotland 'would have to apply for EU membership'
European commission reasserts that Scotland would have no automatic right to being part of EU if it voted to leave UK

Severin Carrell Scotland editor
Friday 10 February 2017 06.00 GMT

A senior EU official has cast doubt over claims that an independent Scotland could automatically join the EU or inherit the UK’s membership after Brexit.

Jacqueline Minor, the European commission’s head of representation in the UK, said Scotland would need to formally apply after leaving the UK, although it could be fast-tracked because it already complies with EU rules and regulations.

Speaking immediately after Scotland’s voters backed remaining in the EU by 62% to 38% in last June’s referendum, the former first minister Alex Salmond said it would be a logical option for an independent Scotland to take over the UK’s membership of the EU post-Brexit.

The former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, now the European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, implied he was sympathetic to giving Scotland automatic membership. “It’s wrong that Scotland might be taken out of EU, when it voted to stay,” he tweeted after the referendum.

Scotland’s future membership of the EU as an independent state has reemerged with Nicola Sturgeon, the current first minister, making preparations for a fresh referendum on leaving the UK and publishing a draft referendum bill last year.

Despite opposition among Scottish voters to a fast second referendum before Brexit takes place, Sturgeon has indicated she wants to stage it before the UK formally leaves the EU in 2019 to increase Scotland’s chances of negotiating an unbroken transition into the EU.

She has yet to confirm that a vote will be held, but officials in No 10 are sketching out strategies and options with the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson in case Sturgeon calls one for 2018.

Minor said the commission’s position on Scottish membership had not changed since the independence referendum in 2014, when it repeatedly said Scotland could not automatically take up separate membership just because it was part of an existing member state.

“The position in Scotland hasn’t changed,” Minor said. There is a clear process for any applicant country under article 49 of the European treaties. “That would also apply to Scotland. If Scotland became an independent country I think article 49 is the normal starting point,” she said.

Minor, who is the commission’s spokeswoman in the UK, also implied that timing could also be an issue since Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the commission, had said he did not want to see any more enlargement of the EU beyond its current 28 members during his term of office.

That ends in 2020, and there were already four east European countries queued up as candidate members.

The Guardian's Brexit Means... Deciphering Article 50 – Brexit means... podcast
Discussing the legal challenges to the government’s use of Article 50, and how the EU will interpret the Lisbon Treaty’s exit mechanism in the coming negotiations
“There are a number of official candidate countries – Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, [but] they are still quite some way away from meeting the criteria for membership. And obviously were Scotland to become independent, they would join that list.

“Now, it might be easier for an independent Scotland to meet those criteria. The fact that all your legislation has to be in alignment with existing European rules would presumably not be too difficult for Scotland, compared with, say, Montenegro. And that might enable them to move faster than others.”

Scotland could also be expected to sign up to the euro – an option the Scottish National party has repeatedly rejected. “All member countries are committed to eventual membership of the euro with the exception of the opt-outs that exist for the UK and Denmark. But there is no stipulated timeline for joining the euro,” Minor said.

Minor predicted that the formal article 50 process for leaving the UK could be completed quickly and signed by a majority of EU member states by the end of 2018, up to six months earlier than the two years set out in the treaties.

She added that agreeing new free trade deals and the other terms for the UK’s new relationship with the EU would take far longer, and would need a transition period while that was negotiated.

If article 50 was agreed and signed by September 2018, that could pose significant timing issues for Sturgeon. Observers believe she would want to allow six months for a referendum campaign, forcing her to call the referendum early in 2018.

Her remarks fueled a fresh spat between Labour and the SNP, after Scottish Labour’s Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said Minor had meant an independent Scotland would need to join the queue behind the four existing candidates.

“As the SNP was repeatedly told during the referendum campaign, an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU like any other country,” Macdonald said.

“Alex Salmond tried to dismiss this, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Now it’s time for the SNP to be honest with voters – an independent Scotland would have to join the queue.”

An SNP spokesman said that was a “remarkably selective account” of Minor’s views. “We are focused on protecting Scotland from the catastrophic effects of a hard Tory Brexit which would cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland over the next decade – meanwhile, Labour failed to secure a single concession from the Tories on the article 50 bill, yet they voted for it anyway. At every level, Labour’s response to the EU referendum has been pathetic.”

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