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September 15, 2017

Juncker dragged into the Catalan fray

So, Jean-Claude Juncker had a chat with three youtubers on Euronews where he answered questions posed by citizens through the #AskJuncker hashtag. Inevitably Catalonia came up, and inevitably Juncker's answer got distorted in every possible way. The headlines about what Juncker said tells us more about the headline writer than about him. Juncker restated the EU's long-established position that it defers to member states' constitutions on internal matters, and that an independent Catalonia would have to reapply for EU accession. But he also said the EU would respect a 'yes' vote on independence, which is what the brouhaha is all about.

If you're a Catalan separatist, Juncker said the EU would respect a 'yes' result in an independence vote. If you're a Spanish unionist, Juncker said the EU respects and follows the decision of the Spanish parliament and its constitutional court - which, as is well known, reject the October 1st referendum. If you want to play the project-fear game, Juncker said that an independent Catalonia would find itself outside the EU. Everyone is happy, except the Commision's press service who had to spend the next day fielding emails from journalists asking for clarification. 

So, what did Juncker actually say? Here's Euronews' own English rendering of Juncker's original French

"We have always said on the subject that we would follow and respect the rulings of the Spanish constitutional court and parliament. But it is obvious that if a “yes” for Catalan independence comes to pass – which we’ll have to wait and see – we would respect that choice. But Catalonia could not become an EU member the day after the vote."

To butcher Wittgenstein: whereof one cannot speak in a single tweet without subordinate clauses, thereof one must be silent.

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September 15, 2017

What to say in Florence

Theresa May will give her long-awaitied Brexit clarification speech in Florence on Friday next week. As we pointed out yesterday, British prime ministers have a habit of choosing European cities to deliver big set speeches on the UK's future in Europe. The continuation of that tradition seems rather odd given the looming reality of Brexit, and mirrors the political confusion about Brexit.

Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor, reports that May is going to meet with Boris Johnson to convince him of the necessity of a financial offer to the EU, together with a transitional period that looks very much like the status quo. This was most recently laid out by Philip Hammond in a deposition to the House of Lords.

The FT notes in its coverage of the story that EU diplomats warned UK officials that the UK would be asked to spend more than it does now if it wants continued access to the single market - so that there would still be an additional overhang of debts at the end of the transition period. 

The article also quotes Nick Clegg, the former LibDem leader and deputy prime minister, who notes that the government has already budgeted for £27bn of payments to the EU in this parliament. She could offer this unused reserve to unblock the Brexit talks. 

We also noted a very informed article by Franklin Dehousse, a Belgian who was a former judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

He notes there are only a limited number of options for the transitional phase from the perspective of the EU. Basically there are three options: Ceta, the EEA solution, and the EU/Ukraine solution. The first is Ceta, which is least ambitious and least intrusive in terms of dispute settlement. The second option is the EU/Ukraine agreement, which is more ambitious than Ceta for trade, but more constraining for dispute settlement - in the sense that the UK would have to accept a role of the CJEU. And finally there is the EEA, which is even more ambitious, and most intrusive.

Dehousse makes the important point that May got it the wrong way around by defining the relationship in terms of the ECJ. The right order of priority would have been to define the trading relationship first, which defines the legal framework.

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September 15, 2017

How to fill the gap left by the British MEPs

One of the issues for the EU after Brexit is whether and how to reform the European Parliament. Andrew Duff has been campaigning strongly in favour of transnational MEPs, who would not be drawn from national party lists. This debate has been going on for some time, but has received new dynamism with Brexit because there will suddenly be 73 fewer MEPs than there are now. Could they be replaced by transnational MEPs?

Duff writes that transnational MEPs would breathe life into the European Parliament, and it would pitch EU-level parties into competition with each other. 

Duff is not proposing to replace all of the 73 UK MEPs with transnational MEPs, only 25 of them. The remaining wiggle room could be used to reduce the overall number of MEPs, and correct for some of the imbalances, as some countries are under-represented.

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