terça-feira, 2 de maio de 2017

Juncker vs May: You ain’t seen nothing yet / May and Juncker in couples therapy

Juncker vs May: You ain’t seen nothing yet
The unwanted consequences of Brexit muscle their way onto the EU’s agenda.

By           TIM KING            5/3/17, 4:02 AM CET

The scorn with which “EU sources” have briefed about Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker’s disastrous dinner in Downing Street is an indication of the dismay felt in Brussels at how the coming Brexit negotiations are going to disrupt normal EU business.

So far that potential has been vastly underestimated – and the disruption has only just begun.

Look at the context of the dinner: as POLITICO reported at the end of last week, the European Commission leadership was exasperated that the British government would not give consent (albeit in the form of an abstention) to the proposed mid-term review of 2014-20 EU spending plans.

The British claimed such a politically important decision was inappropriate during an election campaign — and invoked “electoral purdah.” That prompted an intemperate message from Martin Selmayr, head of Commission president Juncker’s private office, that there would be reciprocal purdah over the Brexit talks “formal or informal” until after the British election.

It is plausible that British recalcitrance on the budget review triggered the briefing against May and her colleagues. To the Commission, that mid-term review is an important objective — Juncker’s team wants to rebalance the spending priorities that were set before the current administration took office.

The squabbling and scrapping over which countries and cities should get to host EU agencies displaced from the U.K. is only a small foretaste of the distractions that lie ahead.
Although the proposal had already been delayed by Italy and foot-dragging by the European Parliament, indignation at the U.K. “blocking” it was greater because Britain had previously signaled its readiness to abstain. On the shelf for the moment, the review may next be delayed by Germany’s elections.

One may well wonder whether the Commission’s exasperation justifies the semi-public trashing of the British negotiating team by unnamed “EU sources.” Not for the first time in EU history, officials intoxicated by a superior technocratic understanding of EU law display a clumsy touch with the politics of what to do with that superiority.

It is hard to see how the EU’s interests are served by sowing distrust, no matter how wide the gulf in comprehension. Nor can I imagine this briefing war going down well with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, who had engineered a show of unity from the EU27 leaders on Saturday when they swiftly approved guidelines for the Brexit negotiations.

But unjustifiable and unhelpful though the trash-talk was, it is understandable. If you are at, or near, the top of the Commission, with ambitions to restore the EU to health by “delivering results” in the interests of EU citizens, then what is unfolding before you is a slow-motion motorway pile-up triggered by the Brexit car-crash.

Worse to come

The squabbling and scrapping over which countries and cities should get to host EU agencies displaced from the U.K. is only a small foretaste of the distractions that lie ahead.

Brexit will be diverting the EU’s attention for months and months to come. Arrangements for clearing and settlement in EU-regulated banks and investment houses currently sited in London; an external EU border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; the regulation of fishing in the North Sea: Almost everywhere you look the unwanted consequences of Brexit come muscling their way onto the EU’s agenda. Irritation, even resentment, would be unsurprising.

There is much talk in Brussels of how the British government has not done its homework and is unprepared for the implications of what Brexit means in so many different walks of life (latest installment: a parliamentary report on ending the U.K.’s automatic membership of Euratom, the treaty that governs the nuclear energy industry).

The optimistic or phlegmatic view is that the two sides are simply testing each other at the outset of high-stakes negotiations.
But beyond scoping out what has to be covered in the Brexit negotiations, the EU itself is not ready for how much Brexit is going to intrude on its policy- and law-making agenda. To be fair, the calculation is hard to make when it is not clear where the British government would like to end up (another source of frustration for those with whom they are negotiating).

But as the Commission tries to hold onto the tiller, it finds that Brexit is generating turbulence in waters that were previously reasonably still. The promise that the EU would not be blown off course by Brexit becomes increasingly hard to keep.

The optimistic or phlegmatic view is that the two sides are simply testing each other at the outset of high-stakes negotiations and the macho posturing must give way to a more workmanlike atmosphere. Perhaps the climate will improve and the dust will clear. But the content of the Brexit negotiations will be no easier than the process. There is worse 

May and Juncker in couples therapy

‘An impossible little man’ and ‘a bloody difficult woman’ struggle to work out their differences.

Illustration by Chris Morris for POLITICO

An unnamed but licensed professional marriage counselor in Brussels forwarded to POLITICO a recording of “Session 14, May 2, 2017” with clients “T May – JC Juncker.” The following is an unedited transcript of their conversation whose accuracy, much less existence, can’t be independently verified.

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER: Before we start this, I need to pour a drink. Care for a gin and tonic, Doctor F…?


JUNCKER: Theresa, would you care for tea?

(audible sigh)

THERESA MAY: Look, Jean-Claude, I don’t have all day. Did you dream up this session so you could leak it? Don’t think we don’t know why and who dished the details of our dinner last week. Is that ghastly valet of yours lurking somewhere here, too, scribbling notes to pass on to a hack in Frankfurt?

JUNCKER: Martin! Come out from behind that curtain and kiss the prime minister’s hand. Just kidding! (Laughs heartily, sound of ice jingling in a glass).

COUNSELOR: Now, you two. Please, we agreed you would try to be constructive. And let me remind you: Dave and Donald tried couples’ therapy in late ’15. You’ve since agreed to separate, OK? Unless you have second thoughts?


MAY: None.

“Oh please. Jean-Claude, do you really think I wanted to be in the bloody Justus Lipsius building on a Saturday? I’d rather be out marshaling the Maidenhead running club again” — Theresa May
COUNSELOR: So we’re clear. You’re breaking up this 44–year marriage in exactly two years. I’m here simply to mediate the terms of a good, or at least civilized, divorce.

JUNCKER: Theresa, here’s the thing, you signed a pre-nup — it’s called the EU treaties. Well, maybe you didn’t sign it personally but the U.K. did and here’s what it says: divorce first, then future relations. That’s the sequence, the phases. Call it whatever you like. So first we have to settle accounts. Protect citizens’ rights. Work out the financial terms. Think about the borders, especially Ireland … Why can’t you just accept this? Take Ja for a damn answer. We’ll talk trade, as Barnier says, the sequencing can be dynamic. But only when you settle up your accounts and we figure out citizens’ rights.

MAY: Mr. Juncker, please. First off, we’re leaving so you can’t tell us what to do anymore. You’ve really got to understand that. Second, show me where it says we have to pay anything. Legally, we don’t have to pay a penny. You know that that’s why you’re getting a bit hot and bothered. Now, of course, we’re reasonable people — I’m not some bloody difficult woman (pause, ever-so-slight chuckle). We can come to an arrangement, I’m sure, but obviously, we’ll need our share of all the assets back. So, why don’t we just call it all even?

JUNCKER: We’re only asking you to honor your past commitments. We have put satellites into space together; we are all collectively liable for that. We have helped Ireland in this or that context. We created CERN and ITERA together. But fine. You don’t want to be honorable — and we don’t have to give you access to our 450 million paying consumers. You can take whatever’s left of the U.K. once Scotland and Northern Ireland leave and ask Trump to accept you into their damn union. Bon voyage!

COUNSELOR: Please, you two. You wanted to sort this out like adults, didn’t you?

JUNCKER: Look at what happened last week.

MAY: That’s a start, indeed.

JUNCKER: I came to see you, because, you know, of course we’ve always said that there aren’t going to be negotiations before the other 27 agree on how they want us to conduct them, but look: As long as you’re in, my Commission represents all 28 member states, including you, so I thought, ‘Why don’t you go, Jean-Claude, be gracious and take Theresa’s points to that summit that she’s not allowed to be at.’

MAY: Oh please. Jean-Claude, do you really think I wanted to be in the bloody Justus Lipsius building on a Saturday? I’d rather be out marshaling the Maidenhead running club again.

JUNCKER: We now meet in the new Europa building. You’d love the color scheme. Your loss forever. But don’t change the subject. Right before I came to see you, you, I mean the U.K., sent an email at the very last minute to say you’re going to block the spending review. Hey, that’s not even fresh money, it was agreed on in 2013 in principle and your guy, the one with the beard who claims to represent you here, has signed off on it already. It was just that some procedures take time, you know how it is, but that vote last week was supposed to be a purely formal thing that doesn’t cost you anything. You’re trying to undermine the EU even before you’ve taken a step out the door.

MAY: I had no choice, Jean-Claude. I can’t commit to anything that would bind my next government, pardon me, Her Majesty’s next government. It’s known as a Purdah period in a mature democracy like this one. You should think about introducing that, too. I mean Purdah, not a mature democracy, though ours is considerably older than yours. You could also try other things like getting your accounts signed off and the like.

JUNCKER: It’s a scandalous abuse, Theresa. More so, you just don’t understand what this means to the EU27. Look, money for Libya, for Syria and so on, means our brand new border guard will be delayed and that just months before Angela’s reelection. And then Manu, of course, I wanted to help him a bit against that horrible woman. Presumably, you prefer Merkel and Macron to sign off on your divorce. They’ll have to. But as a wiser man than me said, ‘two can play that Purdah.’

MAY: What do you mean?

JUNCKER: “FULL PURDAH RECIPROCITY.” (Laughs.) We won’t talk to you about anything then until after your little coronation next month. But then you soon get into summer and then the German elections. I’m sure we’ll come around to negotiations with you in our time and terms around Christmas.

MAY: You’re an impossible little man. No deal is better than a bad deal for us.


MAY: (Sighing deeply.) Look, Jean-Claude, it’s in everybody’s interest to settle all this quickly — especially the citizens’ issue which I can’t for the life of me understand what you Europeans have a problem with. Let’s agree on it now. We’ll honor our commitments to your lot here, and you do the same for our lot over there. Easy.

JUNCKER: Yes, I agree. We should think about the children first. And then the alimony. And only then we can talk about becoming partners with benefits…

MAY: You wish.

JUNCKER: I’m referring to the future trade relationship. Of course. [Inaudible].

MAY: Too easy for you to play the good guy here. We’re not some two-bit country like Luxembourg you know. We don’t want your damn court. How can I get this through your thick Luxembourgianesque…

JUNCKER: … believe you mean Luxembourgish …

“Then no deal. I’m well aware of your own politics. But to paraphrase Clark Gable, who put it more nicely, I don’t give a …” — Jean-Claude Juncker
MAY: Listen! No customs union, no single market — at least I don’t want it to be called single market membership anymore. We’ll find a nicer name for it. And no ECJ for us.

JUNCKER: Then no deal. I’m well aware of your own politics. But to paraphrase Clark Gable, who put it more nicely, I don’t give a …

COUNSELOR: Mr. President!

JUNCKER: My dear lady lives in another galaxy.

MAY: Your errand boy has used that line before — that little monster chap you have doing your business. I’m very much in your galaxy, Jean-Claude. Sadly.

JUNCKER: To better appreciate the complexity of all this, consider this case related to citizens’ rights, which you seem to think can be resolved by June. What happens to somebody who came to Britain, married a Polish, married an Italian, worked, then became unemployed, the wife still worked, the children one of them disabled, what happens to them? This is not something that you can just say we have a gentlemen’s agreement on and that we treat each other fairly. That will not be enough. What we’ll need is that we’ll have legal guarantees for all these cases. What happens to the French citizen who went to London and was married to a Vietnamese woman before? What happens to them? What happens then? Will it be at some point they have to get divorced because there is Brexit? And if there is some dispute? The European Court of Justice must have a role, not your Home Office, with its 85-page applications for people to prove where they were born.

MAY: As always, Jean-Claude, you’re drowning in detail. Be more ambitious. Trust us. We’re the United Kingdom, not Turkey. This is London talking, not Moscow. Let’s make Brexit a success together. And besides, you can’t tell us what to do. That’s the whole point of Brexit. Go back and tell your Mutti in Berlin that.

JUNCKER: First of all, I did trust you and look what happened. We’ve spent the past 18 months in Europe digesting your internal party squabbles. And second of all, here’s a news alert for you: We don’t want and won’t do anything to help make Brexit a success. We all lose here, but you will lose more than us.

MAY: Is there a grown up I can talk to?

JUNCKER: You’re — what did Angela call it — oh, yes, delusional.

MAY: No, I’m just a bloody difficult woman.

COUNSELOR: Time’s up. See you next week.

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