Brexit: cup of tea and lobbying in Brussels

Brexit, Special Report

The British occupy many key positions in the European institutions, where their influence is indeed important.

Since joining the European Union in 1973, the British have continued to cultivate their influence at the heart of the European institutions and in lobbying firms. The director of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Brussels, Charles de Marcilly, goes so far as to say that they have exported the techniques of pressure groups to Brussels, directing “the first lobbying firms in the early 1990s on the liberalisation of markets”.

At the Commission, the British are everywhere, less by number than by the positions they occupy. Appointed by Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014 to the Financial Markets portfolio, Lord Jonathan Hill is a symbol in his own right. “You never know whether he is wearing the European cap or the British shorts,” reports Charles de Marcilly. In Parliament, the same strategy. They have chaired the Internal Market Committee for more than ten years, a rarity. And MEPs from the other side of the Channel are much more numerous in proportion to their residence in the Brussels capital. and to have invested in it more than their French counterparts who are enthusiastic about Thalys.

The famous Thatcherian discount

The British know how to defend their interests, and not only in terms of budget with their famous Thatcherian discount. A recent example: if they participate actively promoting the readmission of Syrians under the EU-Turkey agreement concluded in March, they will not take part in the visa liberalisation agreement for Turkey, although considered by Ankara as a counterpart to the agreement. Their “opt-out” on the European asylum policy, which they share with Ireland and Denmark, leaves the field open to them. Similarly, if the UK receives European funds, the British government does not always tell its population. This has a way of annoying law professor Philippa Watson, secretary of the British Law Association, who is also a member of the British association of European Law Ukael. According to her, the Commission is letting a legal infringement go through that fuels the ignorance of the majority of the population about Europe. “If you get project funding from EU funds, you have to recognise the source of that funding. This is a legal obligation and a condition for receiving it. I have never seen a poster in the UK that says ‘Funded’. by the European Union” as you can see in France and elsewhere. »

What about the thousands of British civil servants?

The British also know how to make themselves useful when necessary. “When I was lobbyist in a professional federation, the British were very strong when it was time to reread the final document,” says Charles de Marcilly. They changed five sentences was not a lot, but it was going in a direction that was not necessarily the one before. A discreet but effective influence. »

It is no coincidence that they are to be found in the DG Translation of the European Commission. Compared to their colleagues, British translators largely deal with documents coming from the Member States, not the internal documents. Not all of them necessarily go through the central translation service, says a European source: “When there is an English speaker in a general directorate, rather than having a document go through the official translation circuit, it is translated directly in-house. “Of course, as one translator from the institution points out, there has always been an English section in the EU institutions, even before the UK joined the EU. So whether or not the British will have to stay on to translate the documents. “All the more so that there are not enough Irish people”, says Felix Géradon of the European Union trade union.

British translators in the institution are not the most important in this respect. worried about Brexit. Much less than their colleagues who are chaining the meetings together information on the possible consequences of 23 June, organised by the dozens of trade unions in the European civil service. For these few thousand British civil servants whose country is no longer a member of the Union may be dismissed from office under Article 49 of the Treaty. “Overnight, they will be dismissed. would find themselves without social security,” says the trade unionist. A softer version would be the non-renewal of the fixed-term contract for contract workers or early retirement at 58 years old. It all depends on the negotiations that will follow the June 23rd vote, which could last for many years.

Plan B(rexit) is not envisaged

Surprisingly enough, plan B(rexit) is not being considered. “We know for plan A if we stay, but for plan B, we don’t know,” says Philippa. Watson. The Treaty of Lisbon effectively provides for two years of negotiations in starting case, renewable by unanimity of the Member States. “You just have the time to choose your agenda, your negotiators and your legal assistants. “Difficult to believe that the negotiations will last two years, as was the case in the past for Greenland, which in 1985 had chosen the way out of the communities European.

Read the article “Brexit: cup of tea and lobbying in Brussels” on Le Point.

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