Even though it is already on an exit trajectory, the UK is still due to assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from 1 July 2017. But it would be surreal if the UK presides over a Union that it is going to leave.
One thing is certain: the message form all the powerhouses in the EU is identical: the UK should waste no time and apply for the procedure of leaving the Union, under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, as early as the EU summit on 28-29 June.
According to Article 50, a member state that decides to leave the Union, shall notify the European Council of its intention. Then there is a two-year period in which the terms of the divorce are negotiated. During this time, Britain would no longer be able to take part in any EU decision-making, which also means that it could not assume the EU presidency.
In that case, Estonia will replace the UK as President of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2017, followed by Bulgaria in the first half or 2018.
However, in the EU treaties there is no mention whatsoever of any time frame in which a given country would officially apply for EU divorce, even though the decision has been taken internally.
Moreover, when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his plans to resign, he said clearly that he will leave the application for divorce to his successor.
“A negotiation with the European Union will need to begin under a new Prime Minister, and I think it is right that this new Prime Minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the EU,” Cameron said.
In a joint statement, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, representing the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, stated that the UK should “give effect” to the Brexit referendum “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be”.
Leaders of political groups such as the liberal ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt, and Rebecca Harms, Co-President of the Greens/EFA, stated that Cameron should trigger the procedure under Article 50 immediately, during next week’s summit.
According to information obtained by EurActiv.com, EU leaders fear that London may use the unsolved case of its rotating EU presidency as a bargaining chip to obtain better divorce conditions. Word is out that member countries and the Commission would like to make the divorce difficult and painful, for pedagogical reasons, to discourage other potential quitters.