Guy Verhofstadt Exclusive Interview: ‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit’

We spoke to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, to discuss Brexit, citizens’ rights and Phase Two of negotiations.

What’s the EP’s agenda regarding citizens’ rights in the second phase of the negotiations?

‘There are many outstanding issues that the European Parliament will continue to clarify, from the administrative procedures that will apply for EU citizens in the UK, to the free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU. We need the initial agreement on citizens’ rights to now be put into a legally cast iron treaty and presented for review by MEPs. We will insist that the implementation date of the withdrawal treaty starts at the end of any transition period requested by the British Government. Both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU need clarity as soon as possible and we are committed to ensuring the minimum disruption to people’s lives.

Is the coming negotiation on citizens’ rights going to be limited to the EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit or will it be extended to those applying for residency after Brexit? Same question about the British residents in the EU.

‘A number of outstanding issues remain for both groups of citizens, from free movement for UK citizens in the EU, to the governance of the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

Do you still support a version of the proposal for Associate Citizenship for UK citizens? What would this entail?

‘I will continue to push for recognition that millions of UK citizens are having their European rights taken away from them against their will. Europe should recognise this, in my opinion.’

Recent YouGov polls suggest a growing number of Brits have ‘buyers remorse’ about Brexit. What do you make of this? Do you think Brexit will actually happen?

‘The British Government, on behalf of the British people, has submitted its intentions to leave the European Union and of course we have to implement this, but we do not do so with glee. The British people must take responsibility for their own destiny.’

If Britain changed its mind, how likely would it be that the EU27 would rescind article 50 and welcome them back?     

‘President Juncker, Tusk and Macron have all said the door remains open, but this would require the agreement of all EU member states and the European Parliament.’

Some say the EU cannot officially negotiate with the UK on a trade deal as long as they are a member state. Britain would need to first revert to third country status under Article 218. Do you foresee any problems there?

‘The ongoing Brexit talks will aim to secure a political declaration outlining a possible future framework for trade negotiations, once Britain becomes a third country after “Brexit day”.’

Does anyone in Brussels regret Jean-Claude Juncker not giving concessions to David Cameron before he called the referendum?

‘The European Union offered David Cameron unprecedented concessions, including an opt-out of “ever closer union”. In the end, the renegotiation hardly featured in the referendum debate.’

What has the EU done to remedy the underlying issues that partly led to Brexit?

‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit. Support for the European project has increased profoundly since the referendum. However, I agree the European Union needs to reform if it is to survive; fixing the eurozone, doing less but better, building a real defence union so people feel safe, securing Europe’s external borders and delivering fairer globalisation are our priorities. Too many communities have been “left behind”, but the reasons for this are complex, multi-faceted and in most cases the result of a lack of investment by national governments.’

Insufficient and ambiguous: The PanEuropean opinion on the citizens’ rights agreement

The Brexit deadlock was finally broken last Friday, when the EU agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the divorce settlement. But has the deal on citizens’ rights provided enough clarity to the millions of UK and EU immigrants affected by it?

David Davis and Michel Barnier

EU citizens in the UK

The main takeaway for both sides was that they would keep their current rights: EU citizens who have lawfully lived in the UK for a minimum of five years will be granted ‘settled status.’  The UK government has said this will be a straightforward process and cost no more than a British passport (£72.50). They will retain access to tax credits, universal credit, healthcare, pensions, etc., and can be away from the UK for up to 5 years and still retain this status. Children born in the UK to parents from an EU country will automatically become British citizens. Irish citizens will not have their rights affected by Brexit and will be able to work and travel in the UK without hindrance.

UK citizens in the EU

Likewise, UK nationals that are legally living in one of the 27 member states will be allowed to stay (though some countries will require an application process to secure this). If they have been living in the country for five years they will be entitled to ‘permanent residence’ or the chance to apply for it. Again, they can be away from the host country for 5 years and still retain permanent residence. If they have a pension, it will increase every year just as it would in the UK.

UK nationals will remain eligible for free healthcare in the EU under a continuation of the EHIC scheme, and if working in several European countries, they will maintain the right to work in all of them.

In addition, close family members (spouse/direct ascendants/direct descendants) will be able to join them if their rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Children of British nationals are also protected under the withdrawal agreement if the parents are protected or nationals of the host country.

What’s been left out

For those that have no desire to move and meet the requirements for settled status, this agreement is probably satisfactory.

But it is likely that the EU will adopt a constitutive system – meaning that British immigrants will have to apply for a new status (as EU citizens will be expected to do in the UK).

This process is unlikely to be uniform and each country will have slightly different requirements. Individuals will be asked to provide comprehensive documentation to prove they have lived in their respective host country for 5 years, and this may not be easy to find. Besides, bureaucracies can make mistakes, as the UK home office has proved.

Theresa May has made no illusions: the British PM seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented people living in Britain illegally. We have already witnessed the consequences of this draconian policy on European citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for over 15 years.

‘What will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit?’

The fact that the continuation of free movement was not even discussed is a worrying sign. It may well come up during the next phase of negotiations, but there are no guarantees, thus it is imperative we pressure both British and European parliaments to make sure this issue is not sidelined. Freedom of movement is vital, whether we are officially part of the European Union or not. Associative European citizenship must be made available to those who either wish for or need it.

Furthermore, there are a number of grey areas within the agreement: what will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit? After the UK has regained control of its laws, what safeguards are in place to protect EU citizens?

These questions will be an afterthought in the second round of negotiations, which will focus primarily on the future trading relationship between the two parties. Given that the UK and the EU already have differing interpretations of what that relationship should look like, it is unlikely that we will see further clarification on citizens’ rights in the foreseeable future.

Essentially, we feel that European and British nationals have been largely ignored. Though there have been some assurances made by European leaders, it seems citizens’ rights are more of a hindrance to the UK and the EU to negotiating more important aspects of the deal.


Interview: Charles Goerens on citizens’ rights and Brexit

The PanEuropean recently interviewed Charles Goerens, an MEP for Luxembourg and proponent of the Associative Citizenship proposal. We asked Mr. Goerens to explain the European Union’s stance on citizens’ rights, as well as why his Associative Citizenship proposal has been postponed.

Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens

Where are we with Brexit and citizens’ rights?

It must be said that much progress has been made on citizens’ rights. The negotiations started from the British immigration law, and the British Government is now ready to concede a special settled status to EU nationals.

The European Parliament’s (EP) only weapon to fight for citizens’ rights is a means of pressure – namely to threaten with a negative vote on the final text of the withdrawal agreement. On the 8th of November, the Brexit Steering Group (BSG) issued a statement outlining its red lines on the latest UK citizens’ rights proposals.

“Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line”

This week, a resolution supported by five political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens and GUE) has been put to the EP’s vote on a plenary session. The resolution discussed the state of play of the negotiations.

However, major issues still need to be addressed to secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Our most important concern is the UK proposals for settled status for EU citizens in the UK, including the administrative procedures as set out in a technical note published by the UK Government on the 7th of November. It is our firm view that acquiring settled status:

  • Must be an automatic process in the form of a simple declaration, not an application which introduces any kind of conditionality (for example a pro-active ‘criminality check’).
  • Must enable families to make one joint declaration, not separate declarations for each individual family member.
  • Must place the burden of proof on the UK authorities to challenge the declaration and this only on a case-by-case basis and in line with EU law.
  • Must be cost-free.
  • Is a system that can only enter into force after any transition period, if requested and agreed, has concluded. Before that, the freedom of movement should apply.
  • On family reunification, Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line.
  • We do not accept that there has to be any status difference between the members of a family born from different relationships or between those born before and those born after Brexit.
  • On the export of benefits, we insist that this cannot be limited to pensions only, but should include all benefits defined in the EU legislation.
  • Last but not least, we insist that UK citizens currently living in the European Union continue to benefit from the freedom of movement after Brexit. These are our red lines.

Will there be a difference of treatment between EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit and those applying for residency after Brexit?

It’s a key question. The status of future EU residents in the UK will be discussed in the second phase of the negotiations, once an agreement on Brexit has been concluded. The current negotiations are exclusively for the benefit of current EU residents in the UK.

Is your proposal on associated citizenship still on the agenda of the EP?

Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my proposal of an associated citizenship, which was fought harshly by those in favour of Brexit as well as by those in favour of strict reciprocity between the UK and the EU in the matter of citizen’s rights. My view as a Luxembourger is that reciprocity is not needed. I can tell you that the associated citizenship remains in the minds and hearts of most of the remainers. We will see in the next phase of the negotiations whether it is appropriate to revive this proposal, possibly on a reciprocal basis.

EU citizens' rights

Citizens’ rights: post-Brexit EU & UK proposals compared

‘Despite the bluster and grandstanding from various opposition figures and commentators in Britain,’ says Hugo Bennett on, the UK’s post-Brexit citizens’ rights proposal ‘already comes remarkably close to the EU’s.’
citizens' rights
EU nationals in the UK are concerned about losing citizens’ rights after Brexit

The UK and the EU have published their post-Brexit citizens’ rights proposals.

Of course, there are differences, says Bennett: ‘If the EU’s opening offer was entirely acceptable to the UK, or vice versa, there would clearly be no need for a negotiation at all.’

‘Nonetheless, despite the bluster and grandstanding from various opposition figures and commentators in Britain, the UK offer already comes remarkably close to the EU’s in the majority of areas.’

Here, the key issues are split into ‘areas of broad agreement’ and ‘areas requiring substantial negotiations.’

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Areas of broad agreement

Scope of the deal. Both sides agree that the deal should apply equally to all EU27 citizens, and that the ‘existing special arrangements’ between the UK and Ireland must be preserved.

Benefits. This has historically been a sticking point for the UK and the EU. But the UK has committed to allow all EU citizens that arrive before the ‘cut-off date’ to carry on ‘exporting benefits,’ even to children living in other countries.

Bennett sees this as a ‘major compromise.’

Healthcare & Pensions. Both sides wish to preserve current citizens’ rights regarding healthcare arrangements, with UK and EU citizens ‘free to use each others’ health services, which will then be reimbursed by the appropriate member state.’

Brexit Secretary David Davis has also said that even if no deal is reached the UK will ‘continue paying unilaterally’ for the healthcare of British expats living in the EU.

citizens' rights
Brexit Secretary David Davis

He has also committed to continue ‘uprating’ the state pensions (by increasing them using the famous “triple-lock” system) of such UK nationals.

These ‘significant moves should provide much reassurance to British citizens currently living in the EU,’ says Bennett.

Students & Qualifications. Both sides agree on the need for ‘the continued mutual recognition of qualifications obtained prior to Brexit,’ and that EU students shouldn’t be restricted from starting courses in the UK over the next few years.

Application procedure. ‘The UK and the EU disagree over whether eligible citizens in the UK and the EU should be considered legally resident without documentation,’ the newly arriving citizens’ rights will change after the ‘cut-off date.’

The EU is seeking reassurances that the British application process will be ‘straightforward, following the many stories about EU citizens struggling with existing Home Office procedures.’

Areas requiring substantial negotiation

Cut-off date. The EU wants it to be ‘Brexit day itself: 29th March 2019, or the day after.’ The UK wants it to fall somewhere in-between Brexit day and the date Article 50 was triggered: 29 March 2017.

‘This is one area where the UK can probably afford to compromise,’ says Bennett, ‘in order to secure concessions from the EU in other areas.’

‘Family reunion rights is set to be a major crunch point between the UK and the EU.’

Permanence of rights. The EU wants “settled status” to be ‘permanent once acquired,’ whereas the UK says it would be lost if a person left the UK for more than 2 years.

‘This will need to be resolved but should not be overly difficult to find an acceptable compromise on,’ says Bennett.

Family reunion rights. The ‘key point of dispute’ is the EU calling for family members of EU citizens being able to join them ‘before or after the withdrawal date.’

These ‘super-rights’ for EU citizens would ‘exceed what UK nationals have themselves in the same country.’

The UK proposes to guarantee children’s rights to join EU parents after Brexit, automatically granting them British citizenship, but says that spouses (and other family members) must meet the same criteria ‘as equivalent relations of UK nationals.’

‘This is set to be a major crunch point between the UK and the EU,’ says Bennett.

Jurisdiction. ‘The biggest disagreement by far between the two sides is over how the deal should be enforced legally.’

The EU wants the deal to be enforced under the remit of the European Court of Justice, whereas the UK is insisting on some kind of joint arbitration court of UK and EU judges.

Just like the EU has made it clear that the four freedoms (goods, people, services and capital) are indivisible, this is a red line issue for the UK.

‘Compromise will be required from both sides, not just the UK, if the Brexit process is to process smoothly and successfully,’ says Bennett. ‘But there is no reason why this should ultimately not be possible.’

French nationality

Brexit: 254% spike in Brits applying for French nationality

1363 Brits applied for French nationality in 2016 compared to 385 in 2015, according to Le Monde.
French nationality
People flood the streets after the 2012, 14th of July parade in Paris.

Worried about their rights as Brits in Europe, a record number of the ‘Queens subjects’ living in France decided to apply for French nationality in 2016 – 254% more than the year before.

According to estimates, between 150,000-400,000 Brits live on French soil, which shows that only a slim percentage have taken the decision to apply for nationality since Brexit.

But the spike does show that a considerable number of Brits are anxious about losing their EU residency privileges.
And early figures suggest that applications have increased even further in 2017.

The region of Picardie, for example, has received 27 since January. They received zero in 2016.

According the ­prefecture of l’Oise, who organise the applications region-wide, “these are British people who have been living in France for a long time, often married to French people.”

It is mostly older Brits filing the applications, according to the prefecture of Ille-et-Vilaine.

“In interviews, they say that Brexit prompted them to apply for French nationality, as they have real worries about the possibility of staying in France after the negotiations.”

Brexit negotiations are due to end in March 2019, and the nationalisation process takes roughly a year and a half.

Remain French Nationality
A dejected Remain voter, 24 June 2016.

Applicants must first prove they have been living in France for five years then provide a plethora of official documents, which must all be translated.

Then individuals then face an interview in French to evaluate their assimilation into French life.

They must show that they have “an adequate understanding of history, culture and French society.”

The equivalent statistics in Germany are even higher than those in France, however, with an ‘explosive rise’ in naturalisations of Brititish citizens – 361% between 2015 and 2016.

According to the Financial Times, the number of European citizens applying for British nationality rose by a third in the same period, with French people making up the largest portion of applicants.

Climate Change paris agreement trump

Global Warming: Trump Withdraws from the Paris Agreement

Withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change will leave the United States as one of just three countries outside the accord, alongside Syria and Nicaragua.
Climate Change paris agreement trump
A US flag near a neighbourhood where homes were destroyed by hurricane Sandy in October 2012 in New Jersey. REUTERS/Eric Thayer.

US President Donald Trump announced on June 1st that America will not ratify an international pact to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. In a speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Trump – who has now been in office for 137 days – stated that the Paris agreement would pose an economic burden on America and tarnish its sovereignty.

According to a recent survey by the Yale Programme on Climate Communication, not only do 86% of Democrats want to remain in the accord, but so do 51% of Republicans.

So far, numerous global leaders have been critical of the decision. Newly elected President of France Emmanuel Macron became a trending hashtag on Twitter on Saturday after using Trump’s campaign slogan to finish off a speech condemning the US President’s decision: “wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility; make our planet great again.”

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Across the channel, British Prime Minister Theresa May declined to echo other EU leaders, who have urged the leader of the world’s largest economy – and second greatest polluter – to think again. “It’s up to the President of the United States to decide what position the United States is going to take on this matter,” she told reporters on the campaign trail.

However, according to Matthew Karnitsching in Politico, “Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris climate deal only cements his reputation in Europe as a danger to the planet, transforming Europe’s newfound air of superiority into a full swagger.”

It should be noted that the US President’s power over environmental policy is limited. States have substantial autonomy on climate policy, and in many cases – such as in California – have even stricter standards than Washington. “The administration’s decision to leave the Paris agreement will have no impact on those regulations” said The Washington Post.

During his electoral campaign, Trump infamously called climate change “a hoax created by and for the Chinese.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters during a visit to Berlin that fighting global warming was a “global consensus” and an “international responsibility.”

Scientists say Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner if the US retreats from the Paris agreement because of how much America contributes to rising temperatures. Their withdrawal could release up to 3 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide a year – enough to contribute to higher seas, disappearing ice caps and extreme weather.

vote leave

UK Election: Lib Dems commit to second Brexit referendum

Call them the Remain Party. 

Today the Liberal Democrats published their manifesto for the upcoming general election. In it, they pledged to legalise cannabis, raise £6bn to be spent on the NHS, social care, and public health, and to hold a referendum on the Brexit deal.

Labour’s manifesto, which was published yesterday, stated that they wouldn’t fight the referendum result, but would campaign for a ‘Brexit that works for everyone.’

The Lib Dems, however, are unequivocal in their desire to remain in the European Union.

In a campaign video released today, party leader Tim Farron addressed the British public: ‘if you accept [the Brexit] deal, then that’s what Britain gets, and if you don’t, you should be entitled to vote to remain in the European Union.’

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With the Conservatives ‘take it or leave it’ approach to the Brexit talks, and Labour’s acceptance of the split, the Lib Dems are not only trying to appeal to remainers, but also to the leave voters who they believe are disillusioned with Theresa May’s tough Brexit stance.

vote leave Lib Dems

They are hoping to build on their 9 MPs in parliament by harnessing what they see as the untapped pro-EU sentiment and embodying ‘Remainia.’

However, a recent YouGov poll showed that growing numbers of Brits feel the government has a duty to leave the EU, 23% more than in last years’ referendum in fact. ‘Forget 52%,’ this new demographic – knows as ‘Re-leavers’ – means the ‘pro-Brexit electorate’ now stands at 68%.

In what has been dubbed the ‘Brexit election,’ the success of the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to replace Labour as the UK’s official opposition rests largely on their Brexit stance.

Vote Leave Lib Dems

Brexit Britain.

In the manifesto, the Lib Dems clearly state their belief that ‘Britain is better off in the EU: it has led directly to greater prosperity, increased trade, investment and jobs, better security, and a greener environment.’

In the aftermath of Brexit, they say, ‘the value of the pound has plummeted, inflation has risen, growth in the economy has slowed, and the government is already borrowing billions more to fill the gap in lost tax revenue.’

And to make matters worse, the message being sent to young people is that their vote counts for nothing, while priority issues – ‘such as the future of the NHS’ – have been put on the back burner as the government concentrates on leaving the EU.

According to the Lib Dems, the Conservatives campaign for a ‘Hard Brexit will make all these problems worse.’

So what are they proposing?

Fighting a hard Brexit.

During Brexit negotiations, the Lib Dems say they will commit to using their ‘strength in Parliament to press for keeping Britain as close as possible to Europe,’ and will fight to:

Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal, ‘with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper.’

Protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in Europe, and simplify the requirements for EU nationals to obtain permanent residence and British citizenship whilst urging European leaders to do the same for Brits living abroad.

Maintain membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

Support Freedom of Movement – ‘to abandon it would threaten Britain’s prosperity, and reputation as an open, tolerant society’ – so Brits are able to live and work in the EU.

Protect Erasmus and other EU-schemes aimed at young people.

Preserve EU-derived social rights and equality laws such as ’52 weeks’ maternity leave and rights to annual leave.’

Cooperate as closely as possible on climate and energy policy with the EU, which has ‘the highest environmental standards in the world.’

Maintain ‘maximum cooperation’ with Europol, continue sharing police databases, and retain the European Arrest Warrant.

Safeguard support for British industry, such as ‘farming, tourism and the creative industries,’ and ‘regional support for deprived areas.’

Allow London to retain its ‘full rights in EU financial markets: The City of London is Europe’s financial capital.’

Reject any decrease in investment in UK universities, and campaign for their right to apply for EU funding.

‘Retain traveller and tourist benefits such as the European Health Insurance Card, reduced roaming charges and pet passports.’

And finally, the Lib Dems say they will ‘oppose any moves that threaten’ Northern Irish political stability, and ‘campaign to protect the rights of the people of Gibraltar.’

Gibraltar Lib Dems
The re-enactment of the Ceremony of the Keys at Casemates Square, Gibraltar.

The Lib Dems increased their vote share from 7% to 18% in the recent local elections.

But they also lost 28 seats, and the growing ‘Re-leaver’ trend is cause for concern. In the run-up to the elections on June 8th, the last thing that the Lib Dems want to hear is that Remainers have moved on.

Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt on Brexit: 7 things to know

After the British general election on June 8th, representatives of the European Union and the UK government will begin painstakingly unpicking Britain’s ties with the EU.
British Prime Minister Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May

Predictably, tensions are already running high.

Amid rumours of a disastrous dinner at 10 Downing Street with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that he would soon find her to be a ‘bloody difficult woman.’

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Chairman of the German SDP and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Chairman of the German SDP and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt

And recently Mrs May accused the EU of trying to influence the result of the general election, stoking anti-Europe sentiment in an effort to court wavering UKIP voters and the right wing British press.

Tory claims that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ are a bad omen for Remainers hoping to retain EU citizens’ rights, and not wishing to alienate their continental neighbours.

In the blue corner. Representing Britain during the Brexit talks will be the self-styled no-nonsense deal-maker, Brexit Secretary David Davis, who explained his bullish negotiating strategy in his book ‘How to Turn Round a Company:’

‘The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.’

He recently claimed that Jean-Claude Juncker was trying to get him sacked.

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In the… darker blue corner. Representing the European Union is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who has been called ‘the most dangerous man in Europe.’

He has already made it clear that the ‘four freedoms’ (free movement of goods, people, services and capital across borders) are indivisible, and that ‘EU membership must always remain the most advantageous status.’

Michel Barnier
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, ‘the most dangerous man in Europe.’

Then, representing the European Parliament – who recently published their red lines on the Brexit negotiations – will be Brexit coordinator, and Nigel Farage’s favourite whipping boy, Guy Verhofstadt.

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The former Prime Minister of Belgium won’t take part in negotiations, but his presence will be acutely felt. Acting on behalf of the European Parliament (EP), Mr. Verhofstadt will have the power to ultimately reject a deal if it is not to the member states’ liking.

And Verhofstadt won’t hesitate to brandish this veto.

In fact, he has already said that the EP would reject a deal that failed to preserve the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe.

European Parliament Strasbourg
European Parliament, Strasbourg

Spoiler alert. Guy Verhofstadt is unlikely to find himself seeing eye to eye with the British negotiating team.

He is aware of the existential crisis facing the EU, but Verhofstadt argues that its roots lie in the EU’s lack of power, not in its incompetence or tendency to meddle in national affairs.

The only way forward is to ‘finish the federal project,’ he writes, and create a ‘United States of Europe.’

So, what do we know about what Mr. Verhofstadt thinks about Brexit? And when might he use the European Parliament veto?

Guy Verhofstadt
Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt with Basque Nationalist Andoni Ortuzar.

In his new book, Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, his analysis is unequivocal: Brexit was a historic mistake.

Here are his 7 main takeaways from the UK’s decision to leave the EU:

1. Brexit was irrational

Britain owes much of its recent economic growth to the EU internal market, Verhofstadt argues, and both the middle and the working classes are going to suffer the consequences of the decision to leave.

He gives the example of British workers seeing the value of their pensions decrease, ‘or their dreams of living in Spain curtailed,’ in the aftermath of the vote.

Students ‘will be excluded from Erasmus,’ UK universities will no longer benefit from European research grants, he says, and the poorer areas of southwest and northeast England will stop receiving EU aid.

Vote Leave ‘campaigned with emotion,’ writes Verhofstadt, ‘not rationality.’

‘This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox.’

2. Brexit felt like the end of the United Kingdom

‘The day after the referendum,’ he writes, ‘Brits woke up feeling eerie in a divided country. Racism and xenophobia had been let loose.’

After a ‘merciless leave campaign that had focussed in the nastiest way imaginable on migration instead of whether to remain or leave,’ he says, it is no surprise that there was a sharp spike in hate crimes when Brexit was announced.

‘This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox,’ Verhofstadt argues, quoting a line published post-referendum in the British tabloid The Sun: ‘Streets full of Polish shops. Kids not speaking English. But the Union jack flying high again.’

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And the campaign reached its ‘nadir,’ he says, when former UKIP leader Nigel Farage unveiled a billboard showing queuing refugees that was emblazoned with the words “Breaking Point:” ‘a ploy directly inspired by a Nazi propaganda film from the late 1930s.’

Nigel Farage
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in front of his controversial anti-immigration poster during the Brexit campaign.

3. A minority of Brits wanted to leave the EU

Many Leave voters declared that they had only wanted to see the back of David Cameron, Verhofstadt writes, and that ‘they would have voted differently had they known that Brexit was going to happen.’

‘If the Brexit vote proved anything, it proved the “remain” camp right,’ he argues, considering the negative societal and economic consequences the split has already had.

‘It has turned into a divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted,’ while deepening divisions between the Tories, ‘splitting the whole country, and dragging the rest of the EU down with it.’

4. There is ‘no way back’ from Brexit

Given that Tory constituencies voted heavily in favour of Brexit, Verhofstadt sees a second referendum – or a ‘reversal of the first one’ – as ‘highly unlikely:’ ‘There is no way back.’

The biggest risk going forward is that Brexit negotiations ‘drag on for years,’ and join the ‘long list’ of unsolved EU crises: ‘the Greek crisis, the refugee crisis, an unresolved economic crisis, and the seemingly ever-present terrorist threat.’

A child refugee on the Greek island of Lesvos, (Mauro Kourí)
A child refugee on the Greek island of Lesvos, (Mauro Kourí)

5. The EU can’t be soft with Britain

‘The British were right to question the ability of the European Union to meet the challenges we Europeans face,’ writes Verhofstadt, but it would be a mistake to be ‘soft’ with them.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin channelling money to the far-right French Front National and the increasingly anti-Islam United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), giving Britain ‘too much wiggle room to extract favours and deals’ will only embolden anti-European parties who already see the EU as a ‘doormat.’

‘Brexit has turned into a divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted.’

6. Remaining in the internal market would be costly

Theresa May must decide what “remaining close to European neighbours” means, Verhofstadt argues.

‘Does the UK want a trade deal with the EU, like Canada or Japan?’

Or does it want to ‘go a step further’ and retain access to the internal market? If so, Verhofstadt is clear that the UK must accept the ‘four freedoms,’ which would mean agreeing to uncapped immigration from other EU states.

‘The à la carte Europe satisfies no one.’

While Britain and Europe remain close, and are ‘major trading partners,’ retaining the privileges of internal market access ‘would entail Britain’s complete acceptance of EU rules without having a seat at the table, while paying a hefty membership fee.’

7. Brexit must inspire the EU to commit to reform

If there is one thing that can be learnt from the Brexit vote, Verhofstadt argues, it’s that the ‘à la carte Europe,’ with its multiple different levels of membership, ‘ultimately satisfies no one,’ neither the Eurosceptics, nor the European federalists: ‘it makes Europe inexplicable and unsellable to broader public opinion.’

‘The British referendum should lead to a clear choice – between full membership, associated status, or no relationship at all.’

‘No deal’ would mean UK-EU trade terms would default to World Trade Organisation rules, which many believe would be disastrous for the British economy.

But with Mr. Verhofstadt unafraid to lean on his veto powers, and the Conservative government seemingly determined to play hardball, the possibility of one side walking away from the negotiating table during the Brexit talks feels very real.


Frank Andrews.

Associate EU Citizenship – Interview with Charles Goerens

What if, after Brexit, it was possible for citizens of former member states to obtain individual EU citizenship? The PanEuropean spoke to the man behind the proposal, MEP Charles Goerens.
Charles Goerens Associate EU Citizenship
MEP Charles Goerens

TPE  In what context did the proposal of an Associate EU citizenship surface?

CG  The Committee on Constitutional Affairs, of which I myself am a substitute member, has been working on a report by Mr Guy Verhofstadt on “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”.

This report proposes avenues for updating EU treaties to cope with current and future challenges aiming at enhancing consistency, efficiency and accountability of EU governance, its institutions and policies, and should translate into a series of amendment proposals to the treaties. Among the proposed adjustments is the creation of a status of Associate member of the EU.

The report recommends that “a type of ‘Associate status’ could be proposed to those states in the periphery that only want to participate on the sideline, i.e. in some specific Union policies”. I seized this opportunity to propose the creation of a status of Associate citizen of the EU.

Both proposals go along the same line and will be advocated by MEP Verhofstadt as Lead negotiator appointed by the European Parliament in the negotiation with the UK.

TPE  What exact form would this ‘Associate EU citizenship’ take?

CG  There is a growing concern among British citizens that Brexit might result in the exit of their country from the single market and, as a consequence, the loss of their free access to other EU member states. This is a consequence they are not prepared to accept.

My proposal consists in essence to confer to any citizen of a former member state of the Union freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms provided for and guaranteed by the treaties. Those are the rights to move to and stay in any member state of the EU.

To the preservation of such rights, I consider it would be appropriate to add the right of voting in European ballots. These are the general principles I am ready to commit to and which would require an amendment to the treaties.

It is down to the negotiators and then the legislator to determine the appropriate modalities and, if need be, complement the proposal.

TPE  Does the freedom of movement include the right to work?

CG  The legal implications of such a right need to be thoroughly investigated but, yes, free access to the labour market is an essential right that no EU citizen is prepared to lose.

Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.

TPE  Your proposal includes the right of vote. How would that work?

CG  The French Parliament benefits from an interesting scheme for the French living abroad. We could draw inspiration from it by deciding to attribute seats in the EP to Associate citizens of former EU states and offer them to vote for a trans-European list.

Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.

TPE  Would you consider asking the UK to concede reciprocity for the EU granting such rights to British citizens?

CG  As an MEP, I can only voice the concerns of EU citizens with regards to the EU. It is up to the EU negotiators to determine what should be tabled in the negotiation with the UK. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t deem reciprocity essential for my proposal to be adopted by the EP.

Some European countries with an ageing population simply cannot afford to close their doors to the British. However, it cannot be ignored that if there are three million British people residing in European member states other than the UK, there are as many continental European residents living in the UK.

I doubt my proposal would go unchallenged across the EP if the UK didn’t offer some sort of reciprocity.

Theresa May EU Citizenship
British PM Theresa May

TPE  What will you ask the beneficiaries of Associate EU citizenship in return for the rights granted to them?

CG  They could be asked to pay a fee to cover administrative costs. However, this is not an essential feature of the proposal. Associate EU citizenship is not destined to be traded like a privilege. It’s a set of rights that you are born with.

TPE  What do you answer to those who say that your proposal would amount to allowing leaver states ‘have the cake and eat it’ by letting them retain some essential benefits of the single market without bearing the constraints of it, namely the contribution to the EU budget and some heavy regulations? Don’t you fear that granting the Associate citizenship to citizens of former EU states could encourage some member states to leave the EU?

CG  Those who, in some EU states, plead for or aspire to leave haven’t expressed any wish to keep their EU citizenship. That is simply not something they are interested in. I therefore think that such a fear is ill-founded.

TPE  What are the odds in favour of the adoption of your proposal?

CG  As representatives of European citizens, MEP Verhofstadt and I think that, whatever the odds, it is our role and our duty to voice the concerns of citizens attached to the integrity of the EU and to the achievements of sixty years of European construction.

The countless reactions to our proposal I received by mail, as well as the rapidly growing number of signatures of the campaign in support of it launched on show that we benefit from a steadily growing support from the European population, expressing a mounting concern and a strong and deeply rooted sense of belonging to Europe.

The stronger the support from the European population, the more compelling our proposal will seem to the European Parliament and in the eyes of those in charge of negotiating with the UK. We need to reach a certain critical mass in favour of the proposal in order to shift the position lines.

Once we get a majority in favour of the proposal, then you can count on the European institutions to deliver the appropriate legal framework for the scheme to work smoothly. The Treaty will have to be revised regardless of the success of our proposal after Brexit comes into force.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to develop the Associate EU citizenship.

TPE  How has your proposal been received among EU institutions?

CG  We won’t have a clue about the European Council’s reaction to the proposal until article 50 is set in motion. No notification, no negotiation says the Council.

As for the EP, I can tell you that the proposal has been well received by many of my colleagues and that we will work on creating transpartisan support from January onwards.

Now, I would invite those opposing the idea of the Associate EU citizenship to distinguish the pertinence of the proposal and the obstacles to its implementation within the current legal framework.

Such a framework is meant to fit the principles determined by the EP, not the opposite.

TPE   What is the EP’s room for manoeuvre in the process of amending the Treaty?

CG  The EP has a veto right over the agreement which will emerge from the negotiations as over any international agreement. The British Prime Minister has announced that she would trigger article 50 by the end of March.

The EP will express its opinion before that deadline and adopt a resolution that will set negotiating objectives that the Council will have to consider. The EP, which has always been a driving force behind proposals, will be the EU institution starting the offensive.

Moreover, you know that MEP Verhofstadt has been appointed Lead negotiator for the EP. Mr Verhofstadt will be closely associated to the negotiation and will make sure that the EP’s proposals remain high in the negotiating team agenda.

Last but not least, the Commission will inform the EP, in the same way as the British Government will keep the Commons informed of the development of the negotiation. We will without any doubt find the appropriate methods to comply with the necessary confidentiality of the process.

We in the EP are pragmatic people.

MEP Charles Goerens

My plan for “Associate EU Citizenship” by MEP Charles Goerens

In this PanEuropean exclusive, MEP Charles Goerens explains the importance of offering Associate EU Citizenship to citizens of former member states, and how it would work.
MEP Charles Goerens Associate EU Citizenship
MEP Charles Goerens
What is the aim of your amendment?

I tabled my amendment to the own-initiative draft report by Guy Verhofstadt entitled “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”, which aims at looking at the possibilities to improve the functioning of the European Union by a change of the Treaties.

I have to acknowledge that these proposals are set-down in a so-called “own-initiative” report, and thus carry no legal weight at this stage. However, with the Brexit negotiations coming to a term, and given that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, as one of the larger Member States, and as the largest non-euro-area member, affects the strength and the institutional balance of the Union, the European Union will have to revise its Treaties.

This is where Mr. Verhofstadt’s report could serve as a basis for the revision.

In fact, in his report, Mr. Verhofstadt raises the idea of a type of “associate status”, which could be proposed “to those states in the periphery that only want to participate on the sideline, i.e. in some specific Union policies”, underlining that “this status should be accompanied by obligations corresponding to the associated rights”. This new type of “associate status” could thus be one of the possible outcomes of the negotiations about the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

My proposed amendment could hence go hand in hand with Mr. Verhofstadt’s proposal and could be seen as a solution satisfying all UK citizens who wish to maintain a close relationship with the EU, whether they live in or outside the UK territory.

I am deeply convinced that we should not ignore the concern felt by many of those who continue to identify themselves with the European values and wish to be part of the European project even after their country has ceased to be a member of the European Union. In fact, the numerous reactions and the support that I got so far from UK citizens living in the UK and abroad, confirm that I was right to table this amendment. Up to now, more than 1200 emails, each one telling a very personal story about the person’s or families’ feeling after the referendum, reached my office. As a member of the European Parliament, I could not simply fail to comply with my political convictions and I felt it as my duty to become active when one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, namely the freedom of movement, is at stake.

Isn’t it unfair that there might be no reciprocity regarding the amendment for EU citizens in the UK?

Of course, some might argue that the “associate EU citizenship” would grant UK citizens a privilege that EU citizens, who might have to quit their jobs in the UK, do not enjoy. Yet, we have considered this issue and therefore propose that the associate citizens pay an annual membership fee directly into the EU budget as an own resource of the Union, following the reciprocal principle of ‘no taxation without representation.’

As far as the reproach of lack of reciprocity is concerned, let me underline this: As a member of the European Parliament, I am not in a position to tell the UK government what to do. Yet, the amendment, as I mentioned before, could serve as a basis for the negotiations about the future relationship between the EU and the UK. In that sense, it can be seen as a political incentive where both parties are asked to find a way for future collaboration, which is also in the best interest of their respective citizens.

The press release says that “associate citizens should pay an annual membership fee directly into the EU budget”. What will be the amount for this? How would this work?

I am rather reluctant to dive into precisions relating to this particular issue, which I consider a minor detail, compared to the benefits that both, the EU and the so-called “associate EU citizens” would get out of it. An appropriate amount is going to be defined as soon as the principle is going to be adopted and translated into primary law.

What lead you to the withdrawal of the amendment? What is the future path of the Associate EU citizenship?

I decided together with Guy Verhofstadt to withdraw my amendment on Associate EU Citizenship. We realised that this has become a very important issue that cannot await treaty change – as was my intention when I first tabled my amendment – since this might take years.

On December 7th, the House of Commons decided by a majority of almost 400 to support Theresa May’s plan to trigger article 50 by the end of March 2017. Hence the prospect that Article 50 will be invoked has become very real indeed.

The European Parliament will define its position on the Brexit agreement through a resolution during spring 2017. This seems to be the best opportunity to give Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt the possibility to enforce the Associate EU Citizenship.

I agree with Guy Verhofstadt that the aforementioned procedure makes it much more likely for the Associate EU Citizenship to succeed than through an amendment.

I often hear objections regarding the legal impossibility to implement the proposal. However, it is important to differentiate between the current state of EU legislation in terms of citizenship and the concept, which I proposed in my amendment 882.

Currently the Treaties do not allow to grant associate EU citizenship to UK citizens after their country has left the EU. In fact, European citizenship stems directly from the national citizenship of its Member States. However, they also specify that citizenship of the Union is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. Creating an individual citizenship to the Union would thus require treaty change, not in the least to specify its rights and duties, but it would not infringe upon national citizenship.

My proposal was first of all a political impulse to push the boundaries, on different levels.

Many colleagues – amongst others colleagues from the UK – have expressed their explicit support of my amendment. Thus I hope that the same is going to be true when it comes to incorporating the proposal into the European Parliament’s resolution.

When it comes to the negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, my idea, presumably in a different wording, could indeed serve as a means to convince the UK government to accept freedom of movement of people along with the other three freedoms, which the European Single Market seeks to guarantee.

Political determination will be of utmost importance and I will definitely not content myself by truckling to those who consider my proposal unfeasible. I am determined to bring this idea as far as I possibly can on the European level. Indeed, history proves me right when we look at the achievements, which European citizens enjoy nowadays.

Who thought, for instance, that one day, EU citizenship would give every EU citizen the right to vote for and stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections in whichever EU country the citizen resides, under the same conditions as nationals.

This is reality today and yes, it needed a tremendous effort and, above all, the political determination to get this far. Why not exert ourselves for this cause and make the “Associate EU Citizenship” happen?

“There is a lack of Europe in the European Union and a lack of union in the European Union,” said President Juncker back in 2015, “that has to change, and we have to change that right now and work together.”

In the same sense, we must recognise that if support is denied to British citizens in the future to keep their European citizenship, we are going to weaken the logic that most efficiently advances the European Union as a whole.

We are a Union of States but above all, we are a Union of citizens. Recent Eurostat statistics demonstrate that citizens want more unity and not less of it. If we want to revive the European Union during and after Brexit, we need to strengthen the citizens and their rights as opposed to weaken them.

Associate EU citizenship means that the United Kingdom does leave, but that its citizens will be able to keep close ties with the European Union. It is a true win-win situation and in line with the essence not only of the European Union, but also of real unity beyond nationality, gender, race or age.