The Brief: Brussels’ Brexit bar bill

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

BRUSSELS’ BREXIT BAR BILL

Ever since the vote for Brexit, Brussels has murmured the words “no negotiation without notification” like a votive prayer to ward off evil spirits.

The mantra meant that there would be no preliminary backchannel talks with London, by anyone, ahead of the Brexit negotiations proper. They can only begin with the notification of Article 50.

It was a powerplay, really. The kind of silent treatment meted out to the odd boy out in the school playground. But today, the Brussels press pack may have witnessed the first crack in the vow of omerta.

Was Commission Chief Spokesman Margaritis Schinas almost, by a millimetre, edging towards an opening salvo in the Brexit talks?

“We should be clear that during the time of its membership the UK has taken, and probably will take, financial commitments. And these commitments should be honoured in full,” he intoned.

“As all commitments are taken jointly by the member states, if they are not paid, the other 27 member states will have to foot the bill.”

Schinas, immaculately turned out for those who tuned in, next addressed Britain in terms he was certain it would understand. Britain is, after all, one of Europe’s biggest binge-drinking capitals.

“It is like going to the pub with 27 friends,” he smiled mischievously, “you order a round of beer but then you cannot leave while the party continues. You still need to pay for the round you ordered.”

This was devilishly clever. Not only had he deftly explained the post-Brexit hangover of the UK’s financial commitments, Schinas had called upon the cherished British sense of fair play.

A Britisher would never ask how much a round cost. It is a breach of pub etiquette.

A French reporter asked the crucial question – what would the bill come to?

Schinas wouldn’t get into figures. There was no need. His message was already slipping cleanly into London’s mind like a stiletto dagger.

The Financial Times’ Alex Barker puts the UK’s final divorce bill at €60 billion.

We used a different model to crunch the numbers. One scribbled on the back of a beermat in a pub.

A Belgian beer costs about €4 in the Kitty O’Shea’s pub by the Commission. If Britain has to buy 28 pints, including its own, that will cost €112.

There are 510 million people in the EU. To buy everyone in the EU a beer will cost a grand total of €57 billion.

There’s a certain beauty to the idea of the UK standing everyone and its own citizens a goodbye drink.

Incredibly, our figure is just €3 billion less than the FT’s. Coincidence? Or perhaps, when choosing his metaphor, Schinas knew more than he was letting on…

THE ROUNDUP

Some of Germany’s regions have stopped deporting rejected asylum seekers back to war-torn Afghanistan. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been overtaken by Martin Schulz in some polls, is annoyed about this break with policy. She’s in Warsaw today trying to boost ties with Poland.

Poland was in the news for its atrocious air quality but it’s not alone. 23 of the 28 EU countries are flouting European legislation. Coal as an energy source is on its way out but the industry wants the transition to renewables to be fair.

Spain, Portugal, Italy and France have all asked NATO to increase its presence in their part of the world.

Scandal-hit François Fillon has apologised for employing his wife but is refusing to quit France’s presidential race, where EU matters are starting to figure heavily.

There was a brief moment where it looked like Nicolas Sarkozy could actually return to the Élysée Palace but the former president has been implicated in a scandal of his own – not for the first time – and will face trial for fraud.

Cigarette smuggling costs Europe €10 billion a year and is a major source of crime, according to one EU official. Many people use e-cigarettes to vape their way off of actual tobacco, but Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis doesn’t think it’s “cool”.

Energy Union boss Maros Sefcovic insists in this opinion piece for EURACTIV that the strategy is a chance for economic transformation.

The British parliament defeated the first in a series of amendments proposed by Labour that seek to add extra conditions to Theresa May’s plans to trigger Article 50.

Members of the Scottish parliament are expected later today to use a symbolic vote to register their anger over Brexit.

The UK government has conceded the vote on the final Brexit deal in the House of Commons will take place before the European Parliament votes on it.

Three UK politicians were awarded over €60,000 each in damages after Jane Collins, a UKIP MEP, accused them of knowing about a child abuse scandal and doing nothing. Collins failed to get European Parliament immunity from the case.

Yesterday, UKIP MEPs Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall were pelted with eggs while on the campaign trail in Britain.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty. Jean-Claude Juncker said he was proud to have been a signatory of the agreement that gave birth to the European Union.

But he added darkly that “me and the euro are the only survivors”.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Maros Sefcovic is the keynote speaker at a high-level symposium on the EU’s energy efficiency package. Up for discussion in a dynamic, no-holds-barred debate is how to boost the bloc’s stubbornly low building renovation rates. It starts at 5PM tomorrow and more details are here.

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