More than goodbye, the end of Brexit will be goodbye. The trade agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom that must enter into force on January 1 will establish a surveillance and supervision structure that largely replicates, although on a smaller scale, the institutional framework that ensures the integrity of the community club.
The two parties have agreed to create a Board of Directors, with the presence of the European Commission and the British Government, and 18 specialized committees, with powers similar to the portfolios of the European Commissioners.
The agreement even contemplates the possibility of creating a joint Parliamentary Assembly, made up of members of the European Parliament and the British.
The agreement reached by the negotiators, still pending approval , is not as ambitious as the European Union intended and as the Government of Theresa May would probably have accepted.
The current British Prime Minister, the conservative Boris Johnson, opted after coming to power to drastically reduce the scope of the relationship with Brussels after the consummation of Brexit on January 31 and the end of the transitional period of departure on December 31.
The cut left out of the negotiations the chapters related to foreign policy, security and defense. And he reduced it to an agreement that guarantees, as far as possible, the fluidity of the commercial relationship and, specifically, in the exchange of goods, plus a chapter on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Even so, the agreement establishes a scheme of cooperation and coordination that, according to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, “can lay the foundations for a new beginning and a long-term friendship”.
For Johnson, “this agreement facilitates close and friendly cooperation with our neighbors in all the many areas where our values and interests coincide.”
The two parties have agreed on a governance that, according to the preamble of the text closed last Thursday, aims to “guarantee efficient management and the correct interpretation and application of this Agreement.”
London has insisted during the 10 months of negotiations, to the point of exhaustion for Michel Barnier’s team, on the need to respect British sovereignty. But it has accepted the creation of a supervisory structure for the agreement that largely reproduces the institutional organization chart of the EU.
The great advantage of the United Kingdom is that in the new model the relationship becomes bilateral between the British Government and the Commission, with decision-making by mutual consensus that gives London the same weight as Brussels in matters related to the agreement.
With Brexit, the United Kingdom leaves behind multilateral institutions in which it felt increasingly minority and where its influence was declining in proportion to progress in European integration.
The new structure will be led by a Partnership Council, co-chaired by a European Commissioner and by a member of the British Government at ministerial level.
The Council, which will meet alternately in Brussels and London, may take decisions on all matters covered by the agreement (trade, air and road transport, energy, customs, intellectual property, public tender, VAT management, sanitary and phytosanitary products, fishing …), direct recommendations to one of the parties on the application of the agreement and create or dissolve the specialized committees that will supervise each area.
The Council’s work will be assisted by 18 specialized committees, each in charge of supervising the execution of the agreement in its different areas. Both parties undertake to appoint representatives “who have the necessary knowledge regarding the issues under discussion”, but without specifying the rank of the participants.
The distribution of tasks of the committees follows the areas of the agreement and coincide with the portfolio of one of the 27 members of the European Commission.
The most important, at least at the start of the new relationship, seem called to be the trade committee, the goods committee, and the customs and rules of origin committee.
But the one for regulatory cooperation and the one in charge of ensuring fair competition between both parties can become the most active forums as European and British legislation go their own way, with the risk of possible divergences and discrepancies.
The Council and the committees will meet at least once a year. But they may be summoned at any time by either of the two parties.
The agreement also establishes four working groups to ensure that there are no serious discrepancies on such specific points as organic products, automobile components or the coordination of Social Security schemes.
The distrust caused by Brexit and, above all, by Johnson’s presence in Downing Street, has led Brussels to shield compliance with the agreement with arbitration systems in case of discrepancies and with draconian timetables to impose commercial reprisals if necessary.
But the laborious text agreed, of 1,246 pages, also includes the institutional framework that in the future could allow a stable and, perhaps, ever closer coexistence. “The UK is, of course, culturally, spiritually and emotionally, part of Europe,” says Johnson in the cover letter of the deal to British citizens.
The text agreed by Barnier’s team and [David] Frost’s even goes so far as to foresee the possibility that the European Parliament and the Westminster Parliament could create a joint Parliamentary Assembly, composed of elected members of both houses.
The new Euro-British hemicycle would have to be informed of the work of the Council of the Partnership, to which it could also address recommendations.
The design conspicuously follows the creation of the European Parliament, which also began as an assembly without legislative powers or directly elected members, but which, as of 1979, has MEPs elected by direct suffrage and has been gaining powers legislature after legislature.
Brussels and London have also committed to facilitating the organization of a Civil Society Forum that they hope to convene at least once a year, with representation from non-governmental organizations, companies, employers, unions or groups in defense of sustainable development, human rights humans or the environment.