February will see the intensification of talks between the UK and the EU on the terms of the transition period that will follow Brexit, talks that will mark the beginning of the second phase of the fraught negotiation.
In a show of intent, the EU 27 agreed on the talks’ guidelines that their chief negotiator Michel Barnier should adhere to in just two minutes, as it was proudly announced. “They were united during the first phase of the talks and they wanted to show that they will stay united no matter what in the coming stage too,” a European diplomat based in London commented.
However, UK government officials have been quietly optimistic that the nature of the talks on the future relationship with the EU, that will follow the transition period discussion, will test this unbroken front.
The British negotiators have already identified issues that could turn European countries against each other. Bilateral talks on future trade arrangements with member countries are not yet allowed, however London has approached most countries to set the stage for what is to come.
Within the EU the 27-member countries have already started declaring what terms of the future relationship they want to force in the deal or avoid. Each country has identified issues that are deemed detrimental to their national interests.
One such country is Greece. Although Athens is not objecting to having as close a relationship with the UK as the rest of the Union decides, there is one particular point of content that has been raised by Greek officials.
That is the intention of the UK to continue to be part of the EU’s security policy planning through a new post-Brexit ‘special security cooperation’. London sees its intelligence, military and police prowess as one of its best bargaining chips in the negotiations.
Greece, however, worries that granting a third country such a privilege would pave the way for other countries with a special partnership status, namely Turkey, to claim a stake in co-determining European security policy.
A source with good knowledge of these preliminary talks in Brussels has confirmed to IBNA that Athens officials have raised this objection. The Greek concerns, however, seem to have been rejected at the first instance, with Europeans saying that the relevant EU-UK agreement, should things come to that, would be a special one-off as this would not be like any other ‘third country’, but uniquely a former full member of the EU. This hasn’t really put Greek worries aside, so the talks are ongoing.
It is worth noting that the UK has also suggested that it could carry on being a significant contributor to European security planning and implementation through NATO, something that Greece would also like to avoid. But in this case Greek officials consider the strong French objections sufficient to put the matter to sleep…/IBNA