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The European Union, which Romania joined in 2007, is facing new challenges every day
Maybe the biggest challenge which the EU has to cope with is Great Britain's leaving the bloc, Britain being one of the main economic and political powers in Europe and the world. The European radio network Euranet Plus, of which Radio Romania is a founding member, has recently organized a debate with Michel Barnier, the Head of the EU Commission Taskforce for Brexit. For starters, Michel Barnier has described the political and economic framework in which these negotiations are taking place.
Michel Barnier: "After 2016 - 2017 a new context has been created. In 2016 there was the Brexit referendum, which was one of a kind. For the first time a country, especially a big one, wants to leave the EU. Which, by the way, proves that we are not the prisoners of the EU. Then, several months later, the US elected a new president, Donald Trump, who has a new discourse in relation to trans-Atlantic relations. We have a pretty complicated geopolitical context, with much instability, wars and crises on the other side of the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, with a recrudescence of attacks. Let's remember the terrible attack, one year ago, in Manchester that killed 22 people and wounded 800. All these events prompt the European leaders to show responsibility. And I have noticed this attitude ever since the start of my mission. I wanted to meet, in their offices, all the 27 heads of state and government and the important ministers who manage the Brexit issue in each country. I have also met with the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk and the president of the European Parliament, Mr. Tajani, and I can say that all these leaders, no matter their convictions, feel some sort of collective responsibility, as they understand the gravity of this situation. And this explains, to a great extent, the mandate that I have been given, which is based on the unity of points of view, a mandate for unity in negotiation. And with the support of Jean-Claude Juncker I have chosen to practice a new method, that of total transparency, for everybody to know, in real time, what's going on as part of the negotiations. We always publish on the Internet the stands we adopt during the negotiations. I have full communication with the 27 member states and the European Parliament. This is what justifies and builds trust and unity."
The EU has given Michel Barnier, a former European Commissioner and a former member of the French government, a powerful mandate to negotiate on all the aspects of Brexit. According to Barnier, the force of the mandate resides in the European unity behind it.
Michel Barnier: "I am one of those who regret this vote a lot. Brexit does not bring added value. Both sides have something to lose. I believe that together we are stronger. And when you look at all the challenges that we have to address, geopolitics, terrorism, poverty, especially on the huge African continent, climate change, digital challenges, we need to ask ourselves whether, in order to address these challenges, to be respected, to defend our interests, our model of social market economy, our values as Europeans, it is better to be together or separated. Is it better to show solidarity or solitude? My answer is definitely solidarity, we need to be together, we need to be Europeans, not just patriots, Belgians, Latvians, Portuguese, Spaniards or Greeks. We need to be Europeans if we want to still matter in today's world. We do not have the necessary weight and there are others who decide for us."
The thorniest issue on the agenda of negotiations is related to Ireland. The northern part of the island belongs to the United Kingdom while the rest belongs to the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU. Here is Michel Barnier with details.
Michel Barnier: "The issue related to Ireland and Northern Ireland, which we want to address, is created by Brexit. And I would like to recall the situation of Ireland for all those in Europe who are listening. Less than 20 years ago, there used to be lots of conflicts between various communities, mainly in Northern Ireland, namely the Catholic and Protestant communities. We should not forget those tragedies! And courageous people, statesmen, Irish people, mainly from Northern Ireland, with the support of the Irish government, of the American President and of London officials, established a process of peace and stability by drafting the document called The Good Friday Agreement. The results were positive, cooperation was achieved in many domains, on all the issues between the different communities, and the border inside the Irish island was removed. Now there is total freedom of movement for all people, for merchandise, for capitals and services. And these are the requirements for stability and peace. I know this process very well, I used to be a European Commissioner in the 1990s, and I do not want to destabilize this process. Nobody wants that. The British government, the Irish government and the EU have committed to keeping in force The Good Friday Agreement, to have no 'tough' borders but invisible borders. But now the UK is exiting the EU, the Single Market, and the Customs Union. Therefore there emerges an obligation, because the Republic of Ireland remains in the EU and wants to remain a part of the Single Market, so we need to protect the integrity of this Market and to control the merchandise traded on this market. It's something related to consumers' and enterprises' protection. We need to maintain control without rebuilding borders. And what we have suggested is an exceptional solution, a unique solution, before a better one arises in the future, namely to exceptionally integrate Northern Ireland in our Customs Union and regulations, which is necessary in order to safeguard cooperation between North and South and to safeguard the integrity of the internal market. In this regard we have the opinion of the 27 heads of state and government who have shown solidarity with the Irish government. And we won't have an agreement for the UK's orderly withdrawal in October or November unless we have an operational solution for Ireland in this agreement."
Romanians are among the most mobile citizens within the European Union, and Brexit is a prospect that worries them a lot, especially with regard to the preservation of the rights of those who are currently residing in Great Britain, but also the freedom of movement after Great Britain has left the Union. Therefore, during the debate, a Radio Romania reporter asked the EU's Chief Negotiator whether and to what extent the mobility of the EU citizens in Great Britain would be preserved, of those who are working and studying in the Kingdom.
Michel Barnier: "When talking about citizens, we need to make distinctions. First, there are those who are already there, who have chosen to be students or doctors. For instance, there are many Romanian and Bulgarian physicians who work in the British healthcare system. In total, as a Romanian journalist told me, there are some 350,000 Romanians living and working there, who are contributing to the economy and progress of Great Britain.
For all these people and the 3 and a half million European citizens living and working in Great Britain and for the 1 and a half million Britons living and working in one of the 27 EU Member States, we have reached an agreement in principle with the British side to guarantee their rights, including social rights, social security, welfare benefits, family allowances, for themselves and their families for the entire duration of their lives. Another important topic is the situation of citizens who will choose to relocate after Brexit. If everything works out, the rights we have agreed upon with Great Britain will be guaranteed not just on Brexit day, but during a period of transition ending on December 31, 2020. If EU citizens choose to move to Great Britain before this date, provided we maintain an agreement with the British side, all their rights will be guaranteed. Afterwards, it all depends on our subsequent agreements with the British side and their future policy on migration, which I know nothing about".
Brexit is a complicated matter, which is why we will be talking more about it in the future editions of Business Club.
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