Commentary 2017/4

The 2017 British general election and Brexit: is a fresh start possible?

The outcome of the British general election was a surprise and its implications are still far from clear, not least as far as Brexit is concerned. Advocates of a ‘soft Brexit’ hope that the tide has turned in their direction, while the Leavites insist that nothing has changed. The assumption underlying this paper is that a fresh start might be possible, but only if the lessons of twelve mismanaged months are taken to heart by the government’s critics as well as by the government.

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Commentary 2017/3

Dealing with Britain: the European Council of 29 April and its sequel 

Ten days ago, on 29 April, the European Council held a brief, but very important meeting. I do not normally comment in writing so soon after the event and I still intend to assess the April meeting more systematically in a Briefing Note which will cover the first four months of 2017 as a whole. The meeting of 29 April was however so important that it merits a more rapid appraisal than usual.

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Pre-summit Briefing 2017/3

29 April: Dealing with Britain

The meeting on 29 April of the European Council in its article 50 formation will be a pure formality in one important respect at least. The guidelines for the negotiations with the UK which the European Council will adopt are already a done deal and the heads of state and government will therefore approve rather than debate them. The meeting is nevertheless far from insignificant for at least three reasons.

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Commentary 2017/2

25 March 2017: an anniversary worth celebrating

On 25 March 2017 the leaders of 27 EU member states and of the EU institutions, met in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.  The atmosphere was good. There was levity as well as ceremonial. The Declaration too, which the leaders of both the institutions and the 27 member states signed, struck the right note and was significantly better than the Berlin Declaration of 25 March 2007 on which it was to a certain extent modelled. It was high sounding, but not excessively so, positive but not uncritical about the past, and optimistic but not starry eyed about the future.

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European Council Briefing Note 2016/7

December 2016

Migration, Security, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Cyprus, the economy and Brexit

As the opening sentence of the synopsis acknowledges, this paper is long overdue. For reasons that are explained in both the synopsis and the introduction and confirmed in the main body of the paper, the fact that it is being circulated on 25 March, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, is however a fortunate coincidence. The Conclusions of the December European Council were relatively modest. It was nevertheless a fitting conclusion to a year which, despite Brexit, Trump, Wilders, Le Pen and sundry other distractions, was a rather encouraging one, both for the EU in general and for the European Council in particular.

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Pre-summit Briefing 2017/2

March: A presidential election, economic and social policy, migration, security and defence, the Western Balkans, enhanced cooperation and the future of the EU 

As the title of this note indicates, the heads of state and government are expected to cover a lot of ground at the European Council’s Spring meeting on 9 March and at the EU27 summit on the following morning. Neither meeting is however likely to be long or difficult. This is not because the topics themselves are unimportant. It is much more because, contrary to the impression which is conveyed almost daily in the media, the EU machine is currently working its way rather efficiently through a heavy, policy agenda and there is little or nothing on the latter which requires immediate decisions by the heads of state and government.

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Pre-summit Briefing 2017/1

3 February: Migration, the Future of the EU and Global Politics

The idea of holding an informal meeting of heads of state and government in Malta first emerged during the EU27 summit in Bratislava last September.  The Bratislava meeting itself was the first since 29 June when, following the Brexit vote in the UK, EU27’s leaders initiated a process of ‘political reflection’ aimed at giving ‘an impulse to further reforms, in line with our Strategic Agenda, and to the development of the EU with 27 member states’.

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Commentary 2017/1

Between a rock and a hard place: Mrs May’s dilemma

This is a long essay. The argument is however simple. Following the 23 June vote, the new British government was confronted by a classic dilemma. Whichever option it took, the outcome was bound to be essentially the same, a hard Brexit of the kind which the markets did not like and key members of the May administration wanted to avoid. Unsurprisingly therefore the government- and much of the political class- tossed and turned in an increasingly desperate attempt to find an escape route which was less harsh and dangerous. By the beginning of the year however the game was up, and on 17 January the prime minister delivered a speech which more or less came to terms with reality.


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Pre-summit Briefing 2016/7

15 December: Migration, Security and Brexit

Barring unforeseen accidents, the December European Council will begin and end in one day. Under the new regime which was approved in October, the heads of state and government will hold their informal exchange of views with the president of the European Parliament at 12.30 rather than in the late afternoon. This will be followed by a working lunch, at which, after an ‘implementation report’ by Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, whose government currently holds the rotating, six month Presidency, a number of highly sensitive issues will be discussed.

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European Council Briefing Note 2016/6

October 2016 

Migration, Russia, Syria and Trade

The October European Council got a bad press. Undeservedly so. It was not one of the European Council’s most notable meetings, but it addressed some of the most serious questions of the day and it did so in a manner and in a tone which showed the European Council off to advantage.

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