The Brief: Brexit is humbling footnote at EU summit

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EU leaders had far bigger fish (and chips) to fry than Brexit at the European Council summit in Brussels.

The UK’s relationship with the EU was relegated to a humbling footnote in the summit discussions, as the heads of state and government grappled with far more pressing issues.

It’s a stretch to say there was even a discussion. Theresa May spoke for “five minutes maximum” at about 1AM.  After that, leaders were to discuss how to stop the summits dragging on so late.

May’s intervention may have dripped with honeyed words about ensuring Brexit didn’t hurt the remaining 27 member states, but it was greeted with silence.

That’s the problem with “no negotiation, without Article 50 notification”… it tends to stifle small talk over dinner.

May had earlier said that the UK would not just rubber stamp any ideas cooked up at the new meetings of just 27 member states. The EU-27 pow-wows will continue regardless.

The Brexit negotiations would be “rough going”, Angela Merkel later said, but it was nice that Great Britain wanted to continue being a “fully-fledged member of the EU” up until it left.

The UK did manage to block Council approval of tougher trade defence instruments, robbing its steel industry of much-needed protection from Chinese competition.

But this was all small potatoes on the Council menu. The Walloon insurrection over the CETA trade deal, migration, border controls, and the thorny issue of what to do about Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria dominated talks.

Despite May’s insistence that Britain was still at the table, it was hard to shake the feeling that the UK, and its relationship with the EU, had slid into irrelevance.

Meanwhile, Michel Barnier, the Commission’s Brexit negotiator, wants the divorce talks to be held in French, and Russian warships are in the English Channel.

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Dutch Prime Minister also had a tough time at the European Council after Dutch voters rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Although he probably had it easier than Belgium’s Charles Michel, who had to explain why Wallonia could block CETA.

There’s an excellent AFP profile of Paul Magnette, the man leading the revolution, here. At time of writing, it was looking increasingly likely the Walloons would hold firm. Here is Magnette in full flow.

That story, by the way, will run and run today, so keep checking for developments. Friends of the Earth Europe believe the Walloon veto could herald a new era of free trade deals, but it has also scuppered Romania and Bulgaria’s visa deal with Canada.

European Council President Donald Tusk talked tough about Russia, as EU leaders agreed that all measures against Moscow for the bombing of Aleppo should be on the table.

Leaders also agreed new measures to tackle migration from Africa, during a busy evening. But it will mean that EU aid principles are a thing of the past and, when it comes to migration, some Hungarians have very short memories.

Malta is the most obese EU member state and Romania is the thinnest. In this exclusive interview, Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis argues that national healthcare systems must embrace the digital era.

Here’s a good piece on the cities that are pretenders to London’s crown as the EU’s financial capital. But it is business as usual for Draghi and the European Central Bank.

Alain Juppé, France’s frontrunner for president, wants the border with Britain moved from Calais to England, and Germany’s reform of its intelligence service has stoked controversy.

Which well-known Brussels journalist spent last night dressed as Turn Back Time-era Cher, only to have to scrub off his makeup in time for a television interview this morning?


It’s Strasbourg week. The European Parliament’s travelling circus packs up for another trip. Friday was the deadline for applications for the next term’s positions in the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament. Has Schulz got his papers in, or is his mind back home in Germany? He is now the most popular SPD candidate for Chancellor.


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