SPAIN’S president Mariano Rajoy has summoned the southern EU member States to Madrid for a strategy meeting on April 10 in light of the news which broke in the early hours about how UK prime minister Theresa May has officially invoked Article 50, starting the countdown to the country’s exit from the Union.
As France straddles Europe’s north-south divide, its socialist president François Hollande has been invited, along with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, his Maltese and Portuguese counterparts Joseph Muscat and Antonio Costa respectively, Cyprus’ president Nicos Anastasiades, and Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni.
All these leaders will meet in Madrid at Rajoy’s invitation for the third southern-european member State summit since the summer, the previous two having been held on September 9 in Athens and on January 28 in Lisbon.
The ‘southerners’ will share their views on the steps the EU needs to take to move forward effectively in its new format, that of 27 member States with one of its wealthiest associates no longer in the picture, and will closely follow the progress of the two-year Brexit procedure which officially started today (Wednesday).
This will prepare leaders from the south for the Council of Europe meeting in Brussels on April 29, when leaders will discuss how to tackle negotiations with the UK.
Britain’s future relationship with the European Union is not part of the talks of which Article 50 is designed to mark the start – the two-year period is purely for agreeing the ‘divorce’ settlement, including paying off debts.
Sources hint that the UK may have to hand over up to €60 billion to the EU to sever ties, covering unpaid loans and future pensions of its MEPs.
Britain will be free to leave at any point within the two years if negotiations are completed within that time, meaning Brexit may well happen some time before March 29, 2019.
But if settlements and other arrangements are not signed and sealed by then, the EU-27 would have to agree unanimously to allow the UK more time.
If they do not, or once the extra time has passed, the UK will be deemed as having left the Union with or without a satisfactory arrangement between all parties.
Reports seem to suggest that the UK’s Conservative government is seeking a ‘hard Brexit’, with no free movement of people, goods, capital or services, and an exit from the Customs Union.
And François Hollande has warned that Brexit will be ‘a painful process’ for Britain.