Rome – Theresa May is right to want to tackle immediately the issue of the acquired rights of British citizens living the EU and Europeans living in the UK, but she is wrong to want to pursue a new partnership agreement in parallel with the Brexit negotiations: “You cannot have two parallel negotiations”. Thus speaks the Italian Undersecretary for European Affairs, Sandro Gozi, in an interview with Eunews in which he talks of the UK’s divorce from the EU, the repercussions this will have on the balance of power within the European Council, what it means for Italy to have lost an ally on Digital Single Market dossier and, finally, why Italy is not among the 13 countries that have chosen to launch an enhanced cooperation for the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Eunews – Having received the formal request for starting the Brexit negotiations, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said that now we need to limit the damage. A thesis that you have been repeating for some time. What will the negotiations be like?
Gozi – They will be complex, and many are realising that we must limit the damage. For us, the priority is minimising the uncertainty that the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU causes among European citizens, firms and Member States.
The reaction of the stock exchanges today (Wednesday 29) do not seem worrisome. Could uncertainties during the negotiations cause turbulence in the financial markets?
I don’t think so. But it is essential to immediately make arrangements for starting the Brexit negotiations. First we deal with the UK’s departure, then we can talk of a new partnership. We must be very clear about this, because this is what allows you to have an effective, though complex, negotiation, and is what concretely minimises the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations. The first step is to immediately reach an agreement on the acquired rights of British citizens living the EU and Europeans living in the UK.
May also gives priority to the acquired rights of citizens, but stresses several times in her letter to Tusk the need to simultaneously negotiate the divorce and new relationship.
You cannot have two parallel negotiations. Both because the Treaties make it clear that negotiating the ‘exit’ comes first and because such a complex negotiation needs first to deal with all the specific legal and operational aspects of an orderly withdrawal, then we can negotiate a future agreement. Having two parallel negotiations is the most disorderly and ineffective manner to proceed.
So better no deal than a bad deal, as May and others in the UK argue?
I found it to be a very tactical but poorly strategic statement. I believe that we must work for an agreement that includes both trade and security aspects and I believe that these statements are more for internal use, to manage British public opinion. May herself remembers it in her letter: if in the two years before us we cannot find agreement on everything, the WTO trade clause kicks in (regular trade relations on the basis of the rules established by the WTO). Instead we want to organise our future relations.
How should that relationship look like?
Future relations will need to be based on an economic-trade agreement and a security agreement – the pillars of the “special partnership” mentioned by May – which are very important for us. We believe these should be two areas of strong partnership with the UK once the negotiations are over.
Can “an unprecedented marketing agreement” between the UK and EU, in May’s intentions, become the way for London to take part in the Single Market by cherry-picking the parts that she likes and opting out of the parts that she doesn’t, namely the free movement of people?
No, because the agreement, as close and special as it may be, cannot give the United Kingdom more it had as a member of the Single Market and European Union. Nor can it give the country more than it would have as a member of the European Economic Area, like as Norway and Iceland. If an original agreement is found, it will be a strong agreement between the UE and a third country.
Another point dear to May is keeping open the border with Ireland. Would that be a problem for the EU?
It is a very sensitive issue and is a problem especially for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and for the European Union and the UN. That border was opened with Good Friday Agreement of 1998, within a United Nations framework and in the context of contributing to the EU’s peace and security. We will have to find a satisfactory solution that doesn’t bring back to the island divisions that have been partially overcome.
How will the balance in the European Council change without the United Kingdom?
It has already changed. There are now three countries pushing ahead and they need to take an open and inclusive leadership: France, Germany and Italy. Even the game of alliances is changing, because those countries that traditionally saw the UK as a negotiating ally, as a political reference in various arenas of the European Union, don’t have it anymore. I think, for example, that the fact that we have established a very strong relationship on the Social Union and on immigration with Sweden, which is unprecedented in the EU’s history, is also partly a consequences of Brexit. Some countries that traditionally have looked to the United Kingdom are now looking to other major countries, including Italy.
Before the referendum on Brexit, Italy had formed a strong synergy with the United Kingdom on the Digital Single Market. What does it mean to lose such a strategic partner on this dossier?
For us it is a loss, of course, because in the Competitiveness Council Italy and the UK had assumed a leadership for the construction of the Digital Single Market. It is thanks to the work done with the United Kingdom that we were able to unlock some dossiers. That work proved decisive on roaming, on the portability of digital content. In general, we were able to create an axis with other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Austria and Estonia, and it was very important to have a partner such as the United Kingdom in this battle. Certainly, for us it is a loss. We need to reorganise our alliances a bit, knowing that, beyond the rhetoric, on digital issues France and Germany are much more prudent than us.
Let’s move away from Brexit. After all the work done by Italy during its presidency of the EU, in 2014, on the European Public Prosecutor, why was Italy not among the 13 countries calling for enhanced cooperation on the subject?
Italy has pushed hard on that dossier, it is true, and it has pushed hard to give true investigative powers to the European Public Prosecutor. At the moment, however, it seems to us that the critical mass behind the enhanced cooperation is based on a weakening down of the proposal. There are few powers of investigation and fewer powers of action. But now the negotiation starts, thanks to the enhanced cooperation, to arrive at a possible decision in June. We want to use this new stage to try to convince the European Commission and our partners to strengthen and improve some aspects of the proposal. In view of how the negotiations that have already begun go, will see how to proceed. At the moment, our position is not absolutely contrary to the creation of a European Public Prosecutor, nor are we opposed to enhanced cooperation, which we think should become the normal modus operandi of the Union. We simply want to avoid creating an empty figure, without real powers to combat fraud at the transnational level.