On 27 July, and as noted in our previous edition of the Brussels Agenda, Michel Barnier was named Chief Negotiator in charge of a new Task Force for Brexit for the conduct of the negotiations with the UK under Article 50 TEU.
The Task Force however only came into existence on 14 September, when the European Commission decided to kick-start the creation of the body, thus providing a raison d’etre for Mr Barnier in his new role.
As one would expect, the Commission Brexit Task Force will be in charge of preparing and conducting the negotiations with the UK and importantly will consider a feasible framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. It aims to coordinate the Commission’s work on all issues related to these negotiations (be they operational, legal, financial, etc) and it will also be able to draw on policy support from all of the Commission services.
In the same breath as creating the Task Force, the Commission also appointed German national, Sabine Weyand (Deputy Director-General in the Commission’s trade department), as Deputy Chief Negotiator, as from 1 October.
Ms Weyand brings a lot of relevant experience to her new role as she currently oversees a wide variety of matters in her current position including trade defence, WTO matters, neighbourhood policy and TTIP. She has also been a Member of Cabinet of Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Head of Cabinet of Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, as well as having been in charge of policy coordination in the Commission’s Secretariat-General.
President Juncker announced that, ‘This new Task Force will be composed of the Commission’s best and brightest. They will help Mr Barnier to conduct the negotiations with the UK effectively, benefiting from the deep knowledge and rich experience available across the whole Commission. Together, Michel and his team will live up to this new challenge and help us to develop a new partnership with the UK after it will have left the EU.’
News of the Commissions newly created Task Force comes a week after the European Parliament’s announcement that it will appoint Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), as Mr Barnier’s counterpart.
Despite Mr Verhofstadt’s subsequent statement that the EU Parliament will play a central role in talks on the UK’s exit terms and any subsequent agreement on future EU-UK relations, the manner in which he will be able to influence Brexit negotiations still remains unclear. Officially, Mr Verhofstadt’s remit is limited to keeping the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents ‘fully informed of developments’ and also to help prepare the Parliament’s position in the negotiations.
With the Council and Commission each fighting for the leading role in Brexit negotiations, through their guises of Didier Seeuws and Mr Barnier respectively, it remains to be seen whether Parliament and Mr Verhofstadt will feature as heavily in negotiations as they would like. Whether the appointment is symbolic or whether too many cooks really can spoil the broth will ultimately be decided by the actors themselves.
In any event, the Commission and the EU are currently adhering to the principle of ‘no negotiation without notification’, so the Task Force and Mr Barnier, Mr Verhofstadt and Mr Seeuws by extension, will not enter into formal talks with the UK upon its formulation on 1 October. Whilst the date on which Article 50 is to be triggered may be out of the EU’s hands, it is apparent that EU actors are doing everything in their power to prepare themselves as best they can for when the day arrives.