The Brief: Brexit boss Barnier breaks his silence

The Brief is EURACTIV.com's evening newsletter.

BREXIT BOSS BARNIER BREAKS HIS SILENCE

Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, finally broke his two-month vow of silence today. What would the urbane Frenchman serve up to the hungry press corps?

Bets were being laid between reporters that it would be thin gruel; just another helping of “no negotiation without notification” of Article 50.

As it turned out, it was a little better than that. Barnier put the frighteners on the Brits by effectively shortening the negotiation period on the Brexit deal.

Article 50 gives a country two years to negotiate its EU divorce and leave. But Barnier said that the time for negotiations would be less than 18 months.

He set an October 2018 deadline for the deal to be agreed, giving the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament five months to ratify the agreement.

Assuming Theresa May keeps her promise to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017, Britain will pick up its packed bags and move out in March 2019.

Now this is not entirely new. For those in the know, October 2018 was a pivotal date, especially if the UK was to make itself scarce before the European Parliament election in 2019.

But Barnier said it, on the record, and the European press gobbled it up. It was a not-so-subtle ratcheting up of the pressure on May.

There was little else to report, beyond Barnier lightly trolling the Brits. It’s a taste he has acquired since baiting the British on Twitter.

Remember this tweet from Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships? Or the pic of him drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson’s Italian gaffe?

Should I do the presser in French or English?, he asked. It was a knowing reference to reports he wants the Brexit negotiations in his native tongue and that the British are worried his team is “too French”.

“Keep calm and negotiate,” he joshed in a deliberate misquote of a famous British World World War Two slogan.

But there was steel beneath Barnier’s jocular façade. “Unity is a strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27,” he told reporters.

“It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone,” he said before waiting for the laughter to die down.

“I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone.”

THE ROUNDUP

Wallonia’s Paul Magnette, who briefly but dramatically postponed the signing of CETA, has proposed a new way for the EU to negotiate trade agreements. National and regional parliaments should get to debate their role in negotiating trade deals early on, according to the ‘Namur Declaration’.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that boosting ties with the EU is the best way to preserve relations with the US, after Donald Trump’s election victory. But Moldova’s incoming president has said he is against NATO opening a local office in the country.

There are rumours Europol has granted Denmark “partial access” to its database, after the Nordic country voted to leave the agency last year.

The Eurogroup turned a deaf ear to the Commission’s common fiscal target proposal, but the bloc’s finance ministers threw Greece a lifeline by approving new debt relief measures.

Cracks are appearing in Ireland and Apple’s united front against the Commission’s €13 billion tax ruling. Dublin disagrees with the US tech giant’s assessment on how it generates its profits

There has been a 275% increase in UK lawyers registering in Ireland since the Brexit vote.

What could drag the EU out of its current malaise of debt, populism and migration woes? Directly electing an EU president, according to one former official.

Speaking of woes, even the once unshakeable Angela Merkel expects next year’s election campaign to be “tough like no other“. Perhaps that is why Merkel has called for a ban on the niqab.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls resigned. He will try and replace François Hollande as French president. Bernard Cazeneuve, previously foreign minister, stepped into the empty post. French support for development aid is on the up, but is still showing the scars of the 2008 economic crisis.

One of Matteo Renzi’s ministers foresees a new election to replace the outgoing PM in February, while traders are sipping prosecco after the euro jumped, as predicted, against the dollar. Here’s a chart showing how Renzi’s tactic of personalising the referendum backfired.

Our Over a Beer series continues with Latvian MEP Artis Pabriks talking CETA, Russia, Trump and martial arts.

LOOK OUT FOR…

The College of Commissioners will tomorrow finally decide on the fate of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, which were called in for a “fitness check”. Green campaigners have warned that reopening the directives could be catastrophic for the environment. Half a million signatures flooded into a Commission petition, demanding the rules be maintained. EURACTIV exclusively revealed in June that Commission research showed the rules were in no need of “better regulation”. Six months later, a decision is expected.

All views are the author’s and not our sponsor’s.

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