Under the Treaty of Lisbon Article 50 a member state has the right to leave to the EU – it also states the need to define a countries future relationship after an exit within a two year timeframe. The negotiated deal would then require approval by the Council of Ministers but also the European Parliament. The European Parliament since the Single European Act (passed in July 1987) has become significant institution of the Community and plays a part in most Community matters.
On 8th September 2016 the former Belgium Prime Minister (1999-2008), now leader of the Liberal Grouping in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has been selected to the lead representative for the European Parliament regarding Brexit. The Liberal grouping has been historically supportive of the British Conservative MEPs until they left the EPP under Cameron in 2009. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s however many, Conservative MEPs felt that the Liberal Grouping were an ally on a number of issues. Regardless, Verhofstadt has recent experience in dealing with Britain as he in December 2015 played a role in Britain’s renegotiation with the Community. Didier Seeuws, a Belgian official who had been a spokesmen for Verhofstadt in his premiership and a former attaché to the Belgian embassy in Washington DC will also be involved in negotiations for the Brexit. Seeuws is currently director of transport, telecommunications and energy at the European council.Along with Seeuws, Michel Barnier the Vice President of the largest centre right grouping in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP). Barnier having a strong business and finance Barnier has been involved in French politics since the early 1970s working under various French governments, before being elected to the French National Assembly in 1978 at the age of 27.
Verhofstadt is a federalist at heart and has been critical of Brexit. He was quick to critique the Council on their reaction on Brexit and suggested that implementing current European policies to accommodate Brexit was unacceptable. He firmly believes that the EU will need reforms and deeper integration. The Community has turned towards deeper integration as a solution for economic and political difficulties, this can be seen in both the SEA, Maastricht Treaty (1992), and the Lisbon Treaty in (2007). Unity for the European project has been essential and with Brexit Community supports will have to show commitment to the EU. This will provide a strong platform for the EU to negotiate with Britain. Further Treaty ratification and deeper integration could also see the European Parliament become a stronger Community institution. Verhofstadt had was quick to suggest that the European Parliaments role should not be overstated as it had limited powers over exit negotiations – this could potentially change if deeper integration occurred as historically the European Parliament has gained more influence in all treaty reforms.
Moreover Verhofstadt also believes that Scotland, where 62% voted to remain, should have the opportunity to stay a part of the EU. This was a statement welcomed by the SNP MEP Alyn Smith. Verhofstadt envisions a dynamic EU wanting them to develop an energy infrastructure, a banking union, and labour mobility.
The European Parliament itself voted on which institutions should lead negotiations with Britain, and voted for the Commission to take a lead. The European Parliament historically has had a better relationship with the Commission then the Council of Ministers. The European Parliament through its various committees work closely with Commissioners and do have informal influence over matters through the Commission. Despite Seeuws being attached to the Council of Ministers.
It can be seen that the Brexit task force consists of vastly experienced French and Belgian diplomats. Unity amongst member states will be vital for successful negotiations to occur. Deeper integration could see a more dynamic EU with a stronger European Parliament.