Report of the Lunch-time Discussion on 6 December at the MAI on:
“The State of Play in Negotiations on European Rights Between the EU and the UK”
During the Summer University which took place from 30 August to 1 September 2017(see the report here), ECIT organized a lunch time discussion with the representative of the Task Force Article 50 Ms. Marie Simonsen on the state of play in negotiations on European rights, the challenges of enforcement under any withdrawal agreement and the changes in the status -of some 3 million EU citizens in the UK and some 1.3 million British citizens in the EU? At this meeting, many difficult questions and points were raised which showed the need for opportunities to discuss this topic directly with a valuable interlocutor during the negotiation period.
With further official talks and rounds on Brexit and the fact that the focus of negotiations had shifted increasingly to economic issues, foreign and security policies, there did seem a risk that European rights were being relegated to a second order issue. Furthermore, keeping in mind the general opinion that there was very little information on the topic of citizen’s rights we organized one more meeting with the lead negotiator TF 50 Ms Marie Simonsen on 6 December at the premises of the MAI. This meeting gathered around 30 people, including the representatives of civil society organisations, governments, academic and students.
The chair of the meeting, like in the previous one was Suzana Carp, chair of New Europeans AISBL who stressed that this discussion was also held under the Chatham house rules. In the opening remarks of the meeting everybody introduced themselves and agreed on the importance of informal channels to exchange information with the representatives of the TF Article 50 and the citizens. Moreover, participants echoed the theme that it felt as if European rights have been pushed to one side during the negotiation process and that many concerns remained.
The meeting was organized in a week when the negotiations were on pause, whilst the European Commission was waiting for the UK negotiators come back to Brussels and continue the talks. The representatives of the Article 50 Task Force Marie Simonsen and Michal Meduna pointed out that it was impossible for them whilst everything was on hold to talk about outstanding issues in the negotiations but that they could engage in an informal dialogue about issues of administrative enforcement and the general context.
The general overview of the topic was mostly concerning the administrative procedures, EU citizens in the UK, as well as UK citizens in the EU and their rights. It was highlighted that European Union wants to continue its work and assure that people can work, study, live like they do today and like they did before the referendum. However, it seems that the major difference between the two sides is the implementation of the full competence of the European Court of Justice, on which the EU is insisting, whilst the UK is looking for solutions under its own immigration law. In order to practice the reciprocity EU would continue the implementation of the EU Law concept, which has been agreed on the second round of the negotiations.
It was highlighted that the rights of workers and self-employed people will be protected and that citizens will not lose their social security rights. Insisting on EU law as the overriding concept made sense since it was familiar to both sides. It was also stressed that no citizens should be treated any differently until the full agreement is reached.
Similarly to the first discussion in September the question of the governance and the European Court of Justice was stressed out and especially the need that interpretation would need to remain the same which would guarantee the equal treatment for both sides. This is especially important for everyday life of the citizens, for their healthcare, studies etc.
Some of the participants discussed the so-called citizenship directive and the difficulties of putting 3 million EU citizens through the procedures for a new status, surely an option to be avoided. Some of the participants also expressed their concerns about the enforcement of any Withdrawal Agreement especially about the possibility that millions of people need to go through the procedures in order to practice their rights which have been secured already by the adoption of European citizenship.
On the other side it was argued that, nevertheless, it is clear that UK citizens will not continue to enjoy all the EU benefits and that by end March 2019 UK nationals will be third country nationals. Despite losing EU citizenship, the important fact is that all people should have their rights guaranteed and be able to continue their lives as they do up to now. Having that in mind, one of the major goals of the Agreement is that it needs to be as detailed as possible with implementing texts because that is the way to secure both parties and all the rights. It was argued for example that under EU law, national authorities could already ask EU citizens after an initial period of 3 months to register on their territory and that the EU had persuaded the UK to drastically simplify the registration procedure originally planned. In some respects the UK might be persuaded to apply EU law better after withdrawal than it did now.
In turn a number of participants thought that this was far too optimistic, given the climate surrounding BREXIT and the surge in hate crime and prejudice against foreigners in the UK. It was suggested that the overlooked factor in the negotiations was how the citizens themselves were influencing the divorce between the EU and the UK by their own decisions. For example, the situation was throwing up concerns about identity and citizenship which people take for granted in normal circumstances and which are beyond the scope of the negotiations. BREXIT brought out in the open how laws on the acquisition of citizenship differed across Europe, thus making the procedures for UK citizens to obtain the citizenship of an EU member state in order to keep EU citizenship and all their rights something of a lottery. Questions were being asked for example by static UK citizens wishing to keep their European status why this might depend for example on whether or not you happened to have Irish grandparents and so be able to acquire Irish nationality. It was also suggested that there was a real risk of all kinds of atypical situations and groups in the population being neglected or the knock-on effect of BREXIT for example in influencing policies on immigration being overlooked.
This was an informal meeting so no real conclusions can be drawn. There was a clear sense of the value of hearing directly from those involved in the negotiations, but also that the real impact of BREXIT went well beyond the issues in the negotiations. This was bound to be true upstream when it came to questions of status and the future of European citizenship people were asking themselves and downstream when it came to the monumental challenges of actually applying any settlement of European rights without creating at least a generation of uphill struggle, violation of those rights and red tape.
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