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    European Council President Donald Tusk, left, walks with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, center, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prior to an EU-Ukraine summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016.

    Brexit Begins: Tough Talks Ahead as EU Politicians Jockey for Position

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    Brexit: Article 50 Triggered (52)
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    Now that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50 by formally writing to EU Council President Donald Tusk officially informing him of Britain's desire to leave the EU, a battle of personalities begins in Brussels, with a variety of agendas being played out.

    Quite apart from the fact that no EU member state has ever invoked Article 50 and nobody knows that the rules are, there are conflicting agendas in Brussels, with some of its most powerful people all claiming to have influence over the proceedings.

    At issue is the political question of how to conduct the talks at all. The initial reaction from the EU is that Britain must first "divorce" the EU and then — and only then — begin talks on a new trade agreement. As Article 50 allows for only a two-year negotiating period, that is going to take some doing. 

    European Union's Chief Brexit Negotiator, French Michel Barnier, in charge of the preparation and conduct of the negotiations with Britain under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) speaks during a press conference on December 6, 2016, at the European Commission in Brussells.
    © AP Photo / EMMANUEL DUNAND
    European Union's Chief Brexit Negotiator, French Michel Barnier, in charge of the preparation and conduct of the negotiations with Britain under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) speaks during a press conference on December 6, 2016, at the European Commission in Brussells.

    Leading the Brexit talks on behalf of the European Commission will be Michel Barnier, the former French minister for foreign affairs and ex-European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services under Barroso. He is a former Vice President of the European People's Party (EPP) — of which Tusk, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani are all members.

    "The Union, our Union, will also be affected, even if we continue to benefit from the Single Market at 27 and from our free-trade agreements. The no-deal scenario is not our scenario. We want a deal. We want to succeed by reaching a deal. Succeed with the British, not against them," Barnier said.

    ​Juncker himself — the arch-federalist and former Luxembourg prime minister — will also have a hand in the talks, as Commission President. He has made it clear that Britain must not enjoy the same privileges as EU membership when it negotiates a new relationship with the bloc.

    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker holds up a pen after signing document during the EU leaders meeting on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, in Rome, Italy March 25, 2017
    © REUTERS / Remo Casilli
    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker holds up a pen after signing document during the EU leaders meeting on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, in Rome, Italy March 25, 2017

    "We want a fair deal for the United Kingdom, but that deal necessarily needs to be inferior to membership. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, thinking it can be otherwise would indicate detachment from reality," he told reporters, January 2017.

    Meanwhile, leading negotiations on behalf of the EU Parliament is former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

    The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt addresses the European Parliament after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a white paper in Brussels.
    © REUTERS / Yves Herman
    The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt addresses the European Parliament after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a white paper in Brussels.

    Although friendly towards Britain, he too is an arch-federalist, who stood down as Liberal and Democrat candidate for the parliament presidency, in favor of the EPP's Antonio Tajani, in a deal many saw as giving Verhofstadt carte blanche over Brexit. 

    Verhofstadt says that although the negotiations with the UK are being led by the Commission, under Barnier, he would encourage parliament to veto any deal if the politicians did not like it.

    "We vote no — that is possible. It has happened in a number of other cases that a big international multilateral agreement was voted down by the European Parliament after it was concluded. The fact that in the treaty it is stated we have to say yes or no doesn't mean that automatically we vote yes," he told the BBC Today program, early March.

    Meanwhile Tusk himself, as Council president, will have to negotiate on behalf of the remaining 27 members — each of whom has varying views over what deal the UK should be given.

    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets European Council President Donald Tusk in Downing Street in London, Britain September 8, 2016.
    © REUTERS / Neil Hall
    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets European Council President Donald Tusk in Downing Street in London, Britain September 8, 2016.

    "It is our wish to make this process constructive, and conducted in an orderly manner. I want to be clear that a 'no deal scenario' would be bad for everyone, but above all for the UK, because it would leave a number of issues unresolved. Our goal is to have a smooth divorce and a good framework for the future. And it is good to know that Prime Minister Theresa May shares this view," Tusk told the parliament, early March.

    Thus, apart from the UK having to reach agreement with 27 other EU member states, a clutch of key people in Brussels — notably Tusk, Barnier, Juncker and Verhofstadt — will all want their say in the talks.

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    Brexit: Article 50 Triggered (52)

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    Brexit 'deal or no deal', post-Brexit, Brexit, EU membership, European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, European Union, Antonio Tajani, Guy Verhofstadt, Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Theresa May, Europe, United Kingdom, Brussels
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