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March 05, 2018

One rock, two vetos, three governments

With everybody focused on the Irish border, along comes Gibraltar's first minister Fabian Picardo to remind the world that the Rock is going to be an even harder problem. Picardo has grievances with both the UK and the EU, and both may end up in the courts.

On the EU side, Picardo considers it an affront that the EU's draft withdrawal agreement released last week includes the Spanish veto on Gibraltar's status, even as a footnote referring back to the EU Council's original negotiating guidelines last April. Recall that the guidelines said that a withdrawal agreement would only apply to Gibraltar if Spain and the UK agreed on it bilaterally first. Gibraltar argues that it cannot be excluded from the transition arrangements, because there should be a continuation of the EU's acquis which already applies to the Rock. The government of Gibraltar is willing to take the issue to the EU courts and has sought legal advice about it, reports El País. Not all is bad news about Gibraltar, though. There have been three technical meetings so far this year between Spain's foreign ministry and Gibraltar's government on various aspects of the future relation, including use of the airport, which the paper says have been going well. However, Spain has suggested it could veto the withdrawal agreement.

On the UK side, Picardo claimed at the end of January that section 47(3) of Gibraltar's constitution gives his government autonomy from the UK on areas other than foreign affairs, defence, internal security, and some public appointments. Picardo wants to interpret this as giving Gibraltar a veto over Brexit, which the UK government naturally denied insisting that the UK will negotiate as one and leave the EU as one. 

Going back to O'Grady's piece, he suggests that one solution to the Gibraltar issue would be to give the Rock membership of the Customs Union by special protocol, much like several European microstates such as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, or the Vatican. However, the question is what Spain might demand from the UK in exchange for agreeing to this. And then it is not possible for Spain and the UK to agree a change of status for Gibraltar without the agreement of the Gibraltareans, who overwhelmingly want to remain British. Hence, two vetos to overcome.

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March 05, 2018

Rutte weighs in

Mark Rutte laid out his vision for the EU post-Brexit, and nine concrete proposals for EU reform. As several Dutch commentators point out, his intervention at the Bertelsmann foundation in Berlin comes not a minute too early as the approval by the SPD of the German grand coalition effectively signals that negotiations about EU reform can start in earnest. NRC's editorial warns, though, that EU cooperation is set to go into a higher gear and it would be best for the Netherlands to be a driver than a brake.

Rutte's proposals include the following:

  • transforming the ESM into an European Monetary Fund, with government debt restructuring as a condition of access to EU emergency funds;
  • more military cooperation but no EU army;
  • institutionalising the relocation of refugees, and stemming the flow of migrants through development cooperation with countries of origin;
  • a smaller EU budget after Brexit;
  • tying structural funds to economic reforms.

Rutte's vision is fully intergovernmental. The EU should go back to its origin as a partnership of sovereign states, and the fact that one state gets into trouble should not be an excuse for federalist integration. The states should not strive for an ever closer union as the treaty states, but for a more perfect EU that serves the states.

Is Rutte really ready to break with Germany? The grand coalition in Berlin is likely to agree with Emmanuel Macron's European agenda more than the Dutch would like to see. So will the Dutch start to look for new allies? Or do they hope to influence the German position?

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