EU not focused on Starmer plan to bring UK closer – BBC

With a general election likely next year in the UK, Brexit seems back on the political agenda at home. But not in Brussels.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer – one assumes consciously – caused a pre-election, headline-making stir in the UK this week, declaring he would seek a "much better" deal with the EU, if he were to become prime minister.
He then swiftly embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Hague and Paris, including a high-profile, if brief, meeting with President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Starmer's European trip coincided on Tuesday with the publication, commissioned by the French and the German governments, of a think tank paper on EU reform.
It included mention of the UK as a possible future "associate member", making financial contributions in exchange for a closer economic relationship.
Suddenly MPs were arguing once again about whether Brexit was the right or wrong choice for Britain and what the EU associate membership "offer" from the EU meant.
Newspaper headlines sounded the alarm. One proclaimed a Franco-German "plot", while another suggested it was Brussels' attempt to entice the Labour Party to get closer to the EU again.
A separate theory I heard was that this was a post-Brexit "olive branch" from Brussels.
I put these hypotheses to diplomats from a range of EU countries.
Germany's ambassador to the UK, Miguel Berger, had already taken to social media to temper the speculation. "The report of an independent group of experts… is a contribution about enlargement and reform, not on EU-UK relations," he wrote.
Every EU figure I spoke to said the Franco-German academic paper had been commissioned by Paris and Berlin to suggest how to "future-proof" the EU and its institutions as it considers expanding to potentially include Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and countries in the western Balkans.
The timing of publication was planned months ago, they said, to coincide with an EU meeting this week, as talks hot up about starting membership negotiations with Ukraine by the end of the year.
"To think this paper is in any way connected with Keir Starmer's visit or even King Charles' visit to France is fanciful," one high-level diplomat told me. "Nothing to do with reality. We're having a completely different conversation."
"It's deja vu – like the old days of Brexit negotiations," said another. "UK politicians are talking to themselves, ignoring what we're actually saying in the EU."
"The EU is over-interpreted in Westminster," insisted a prominent EU figure.
"We are hopeful about signs of improvement in bilateral relations, yes. But we don't talk or think about the UK anymore on a daily basis. Our focus has shifted elsewhere (since Brexit)."
It's true, the main focus of the paper is on how the EU can expand its number of member states and still function – especially considering the awkwardness that potential new members, such as Ukraine, would likely swallow up many of the EU subsidies that existing members (including Poland, Romania and Hungary) currently benefit from.
But it's also true that the Franco-German paper does, briefly, mention the UK.
And it is well-known that President Macron is very keen to work more closely with Britain.
He – and the EU as a whole – look at the big global picture. They see an unpredictable China, an antagonistic Russia and they worry about the potential of another Trump presidency in the US.
In unstable times, they want to keep friends close.
They know the UK's two main parties have ruled out re-joining the EU or even re-joining the bloc's single market or customs union. However, they have welcomed the more pragmatic, practical approach of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Mr Starmer's desire to improve bilateral relations.
Eyebrows were raised across Europe at his suggestion of renegotiating the Brexit deal, however.
There is little EU appetite for that kind of time-consuming, old wounds-reopening overhaul right now.
EU-UK relations are already much improved since the dark days of deep mutual mistrust during Brexit negotiations. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has lead to EU countries working closely with the UK inside NATO, the G7, G20 and more.
Mr Sunak's predecessor Liz Truss was key in first breaking the post-Brexit ice, ensuring the success of a pet project of the French President.
Mr Macron dreamt of bringing together every European country – except Russia and its close ally Belarus – in a group dubbed the European Political Community.
Last October, Ms Truss chose to attend the inaugural meeting.
Without the UK at the table, the EPC would never have had the same heft. It was a key post-Brexit reset moment and the UK will host one of two EPC meetings next year.
The Franco-German paper recycles an idea that was discussed and eventually rejected in Brussels at the turn of the millennium – that of a "multi-speed" or multi-layered Europe.
A bit like an onion.
The inner circle would be composed of EU member states that opt for additional power-sharing, such as the euro currency or the open border agreement, Schengen.
The second would be all other EU member states.
The third, dubbed "associate membership" would include countries choosing a formal economic relationship with the EU, but no political ties.
They would pay into the EU budget to have access to the single market, for example, but not a part of the bloc's "ever closer union" project.
Here the paper mentions the UK as a potential candidate, alongside Norway and Switzerland.
Many Brexiteers would see that as a betrayal.
The fourth and outer circle is the relationship the UK currently has with the EU, based on bilateral arrangements.
For now that arm's length relationship, with the potential to become smoother, or more prickly, with time, seems the one both sides are most comfortable with.
As for the academic paper, it has not been endorsed by either the German or the French government.
Its received a mixed reception among EU member states who predict some – though far from all – of the proposals made will make it to be discussed at an EU leaders' summit later this year.
Labour will seek re-write of Brexit deal, Starmer says
Starmer seeks new EU deal to stop small boats gangs
Post-Brexit import checks on food delayed again
UK to keep EU safety mark in Brexit climbdown
UK to work more closely with EU on financial services
Spoils of Karabakh war paraded as aid trickles in
Ukraine claims Sevastopol strike hit navy commanders
Naked AI images of girls shock mothers in Spanish town
A revealing look at Murdoch before his rise to top
Why an American comic book evokes nostalgia in Indians
Trudeau facing cold reality after lonely week on world stage
Poison or broken heart? Nobel Prize winner’s death still a mystery
'We're under attack' – how life is changing for Italy's gay families
Gladstone descendant: Rishi Sunak completely wrong on slavery
Scientists create world's first synthetic embryos. Video
How a British YouTube sensation made millions
Panic in Karabakh: 'The world must not forget us'
How I rewired my brain in six weeks
A 'beach towel revolt' sweeping Greece
The rise of 'finfluencers'
© 2023 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read about our approach to external linking.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top