The Brief: Will EU miss the British?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

WILL EU MISS THE BRITISH?

European Council President Donald Tusk walked into the packed press conference brandishing the letter that triggered Article 50 and will begin the torturous process that will take Britain out of the EU.

“Here it is”, he said, “six pages” before lapsing into a thoughtful silence. Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, had handed him Britain’s notice to quit 20 minutes beforehand.

Six pages that will change the EU forever and destroy 44 years of British policy in Europe.

In its 60 years, the EU has steadily grown to 28 member states. For the first time, one of them will leave.

The delivery of the letter, brought to Brussels from London yesterday under guard and by Eurostar, was the strongest reality check to those who believe Britain will ultimately, somehow, reverse the results of its referendum.

The result will be respected, even at the risk of doing massive economic damage to the UK and the EU.

For Brits, this is a point of principle. Remember, this is a country whose men walked across no man’s land under machine gun fire. They should have run towards the enemy trenches but were ordered to march – so march they did.

In London, Theresa May was conciliatory in the House of Commons. But she was heckled badly when she said that the world “perhaps now more than ever needs the liberal democratic values of Europe”.

Meanwhile, UKIP MEPs cracked open the booze and scoffed cake outside the Commission’s Berlaymont building. Twitter was also buzzing.

Will Brussels miss the Brits? Or is everyone already sick and tired of Brexit? Manfred Weber said from now on only “real” EU citizens concerned him.

But Tusk was wistful. “What more can I add? We already miss you,” he said.

It has been nine months since the 23 June referendum. Nine months of a phony war of posturing and rhetoric. Now, as Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot.

The clock is ticking on a tight timeframe. There are just two years to finalise the Brexit deal, otherwise the UK will crash out in what is euphemistically called “a disorderly exit”.

A leaked draft of the Council statement, obtained by euractiv.com, read, “Should the negotiations fail, we will make sure the European Union is ready for such an outcome even though we do not desire it.”

The final version, published as Tusk spoke, did not include the line.

Someone had decided that admitting the possibility of failure was not an option.

THE ROUNDUP

Only three member states are on track to hit the Paris climate goals and Donald Trump is undoing Obama-era climate policies. The Commission is partnering up with the team that were the first to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane, all in the name of promoting energy efficiency.

Germany backed Spain’s position on Catalonian independence yesterday just as Scotland agreed to ask London for permission to hold another vote on the same issue. The Brexit letter was all anyone could talk about today but it was nothing new, writes Denis MacShane.

Italy has angered environmentalists by approving a gas pipeline and the Commission scuppered a merger that would’ve created the biggest stock market in Europe.

Montenegro can count on US-backing in its bid for NATO membership and check out our latest video focusing on Malta’s stint as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency.

Former UN Sec-Gen Kofi Annan wants more investment in the developing world to promote sustainable agriculture and France wants the EU to follow its lead and ban non-agricultural pesticides.

The EU said it will propose new rules targeting encrypted apps like Whatsapp in the summer as part of the fight against terror. Germany’s interior minister said Berlin would not tolerate foreign espionage on its soil.

The Valletta Declaration on Road Safety hopes to halve the number of serious injuries in the next decade. The Czech Republic wants a compromise on upcoming changes to employment rules for truck drivers.

France’s presidential candidates were looking to woo business leaders yesterday. For those who missed it, frontrunner Emmanuel Macron was live on Facebook baking French éclairs earlier.

As the UK formally invoked Article 50 to start the Brexit process, we asked members of the British public who will influence the outcome.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

LOOK OUT FOR…

European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt and President Antonio Tajani will be speaking to the press at 5:15PM. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will follow suit at 5:30PM. Watch both live here and check EURACTIV for reaction.

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