New EU presidency sticks to tough line on Brexit
(STRASBOURG) - Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat, speaking at the European Parliament Wednesday, promised a fair deal for the United Kingdom, but a deal that would necessarily be inferior to EU membership.
The new president of the European Council was outlining his country's priorities for his country's six-month tenure, saying his presidency's new drive on 'Social Europe' could help counter the current mood in many Member States.
On Brexit, Mr Muscat welcomed the new clarity in British PM Theresa May's speech yesterday, where she outlined the priorities of the British government for the upcoming negotiations with the EU.
He understood that Mrs May wanted to prioritise curbs to freedom of movement of people over membership of the single market and the customs union.
In response, Mr Muscat confirmed that there was "unequivocally unity within Council", coming not from any wish to antagonise the United kingdom, but from "belief in the core principles of the European project".
While respecting the result of the June referendum as a sovereign decision, he repeated, to applause from MEPs, the EU Council line that the freedom of movement of persons, goods, services and capital are indivisible, and cannot be decoupled.
Mr Muscat said the British prime minister's declaration that she will take her country out of the single market because of the political choice to limit freedom of movement of persons confirms the position of the EU27 that the four freedoms are one package.
However, Mr Muscat was keen to stress that the EU should not allow the four principles to be "abused or undermined".
"Freedom of movement of persons is aimed at allowing people to move freely across the Member States to work and establish themselves and their families freely", he said: "It was never meant to encourage people to shop around Member States to see who offers the best social benefits.
The European Commission is currently working on proposals in this area, a move welcomed by Mr Muscat.
Mr Muscat outlined the mechanics of Brexit. The EU Council would keep strictly to the maxim that "there will be absolutely no negotiations without the official notification", he said.
Once the notification is made, depending also on the content of such a notification, consultations will start amongst the EU Member States, with the intention of convening an extraordinary European Council meeting within a short period of time, possibly within 4 to 5 weeks from notification. The aim then will be to establish the guidelines that will serve as a mandate to the Commission to negotiate.
Ending his address, Mr Muscat made clear that he thought it was important that the European Parliament should be involved as much as possible in the whole process.