Especially since May expressed her own ideas on how the talks should run. First of all, she wants to sort out the rights of the three million Europeans in the United Kingdom and the one million Britons on the continent. That could be easy, because it’s also the first priority of the EU. She proposed, already at the end of June, that one could clear up that matter during the next European Council. Her visitors were astonished: a mere two weeks after the parliamentary election?
The Brexit-crazed tabloid press breathing down her neck
For May, this presented no problem: under British law, the EU citizens should simply be treated like other citizens of third countries. For Juncker, it was a big problem. After all, they now enjoy many privileges, and those should be maintained to the greatest extent possible. There are tricky questions to resolve, not only with regard to the right of residency. Health insurance, for example: until now EU-foreigners have been treated by British doctors for free, like any other Briton; in return, Britons also pay nothing when they go to the doctor in Berlin or Paris – the bill is paid by the British state.
“I believe you underestimate that, Theresa”, said Juncker. He produced two heavy stacks of paper from his briefcase: the accession treaty with Croatia and the trade agreement with Canada, both several thousand pages long, all together weighing about six kilograms. The divorce contract and a future free trade agreement would be at least as extensive, he warned.
May also wants to handle other subjects unconventionally: monthly four-day negotiation blocks in Brussels, prepared with position papers. That should all remain secret, she urged, until the conclusion. Clearly, the Brexit-crazed tabloid press is breathing down her neck. But from Brussels’ perspective, this is simply an impossibility. Every step must be aligned with all of the Member States and with the European Parliament. The Commission will therefore publish their documents continuously.
Then the biggest point of contention over the procedural matters came to the fore. The EU has a clear order: first settle the divorce, then discuss the future relationships. On the contrary, May wants to talk about a free trade agreement right away, and only at the very end about the costs of the divorce. She was painting a rosy picture of Brexit reminiscent of what she had said publicly: a prosperous Britain, open to the world, closely intertwined with the single market – everything like it was, only without the burdensome obligations. “Let us make Brexit a success,” she said to the gathering.
“Brexit cannot be a success”
He had a somewhat different view, countered Juncker. Yes, he wanted an orderly exit, no chaos. And yes, he also wanted further good relations with London. But Britain would be a third country for the European Union after Brexit, no longer in the customs union like Turkey. He believes that the country would then be worse off than it is today: “Brexit cannot be a success.”