UK’s May says Brexit talks making progress; EU denies leak

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May take part in an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, in this October 20, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 October 2017
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UK’s May says Brexit talks making progress; EU denies leak

LONDON: Giving an upbeat verdict on an inconclusive European Union summit, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday she has “a degree of confidence” that Brexit talks will be able to move to their decisive second phase by December.
She told lawmakers that the talks on Britain’s divorce from the EU had made “important progress,” despite a judgment by the 27 other EU leaders that more needs to be done before the two sides can discuss trade and their future relations.
May said she had “a degree of confidence we are going to get to a point of sufficient progress by December,” allowing talks to move on.
With Britain’s March 2019 departure from the EU moving closer, Britain is eager to start discussing trade and future relations with the bloc. But EU leaders say there has not yet been “sufficient progress” on divorce terms, including the size of the bill Britain must pay to settle its commitments to the bloc.
Britain’s initial offer to cover its previous EU commitments of around 20 billion euros ($24 billion) falls far short of the EU estimate of 60 billion euros ($70 billion) or more.
May refused to commit to a figure, saying “we are going through our potential commitments line by line.”
May has been in need of a boost from the 27 other EU leaders as she tries to hold together a government, a Conservative Party and a country deeply divided over Brexit. At the EU meeting in Brussels last week, she told fellow leaders that both sides needed “an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people.”
An EU official said, after last week’s dinner, all the leaders were aware of the difficulties May is facing at home. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential, said there was a sense among EU leaders that they didn’t want to make life more difficult for May.
But May’s life was not made any easier by a German newspaper report claiming that EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who dined with May last week, saw her as “despondent” and “begging” the EU to help her make progress.
Juncker denied saying any such thing, insisting that his dinner with May in Brussels had not gone nearly as badly as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung suggested.
“She was neither tired nor beaten. She did her thing, and I did mine too,” Juncker said, speaking at the Institute of Political Studies in Strasbourg, France.
Juncker and his chief aide denied leaking the account of the meeting to the newspaper, and May’s spokesman declined to comment on it.
Meanwhile, Britain’s biggest business groups urged May’s Conservative government to quickly agree to a transition period of at least two years after Brexit to provide certainty about trade as companies make critical decisions about jobs and investment.
The letter sent to UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said an “agreement (on a transition) is needed as soon as possible, as companies are preparing to make serious decisions at the start of 2018, which will have consequences for jobs and investment in the UK“
May has requested a two-year transition period in which the two sides would trade on terms largely similar to current arrangements. But Britain and the EU have yet to discuss details of any such transition.


EU looks to Egypt, Africa for help with migrant challenge

Updated 49 min 9 sec ago
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EU looks to Egypt, Africa for help with migrant challenge

SALZBURG: Austria urged its European Union partners Thursday to enter talks with Egypt to help stem the flow of migrants entering Europe from Africa, amid deep divisions over how to manage the challenge.
Kurz, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and EU Council President Donald Tusk visited Cairo over the weekend for talks with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, a top army general who took office in 2014. Both men have praised him for stopping people from leaving its coast bound for Europe.
“Egypt has proven that it can be efficient,” Kurz told reporters at an EU summit in Salzburg, Austria. “Since 2016, it has prevented ships sailing from Egypt to Europe or, when they have sailed, it has taken them back.”
Kurz said Egypt is “now prepared possibly to deepen cooperation with us in talks. We should use that.” He also said EU leaders support the idea of entering into talks with other North African countries as well.
In dealing with the migrants crisis of the past few years, the EU has been creative, willing to part with billions to secure deals around the Mediterranean with leaders with autocratic leanings.
The bloc lauds the deal it struck with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for slowing migrant arrivals to a trickle over the last two years, in exchange for up to 6 billion euros ($7 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees there and other incentives.
Italy alone paid billions to former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to stop African people from leaving his country’s shores. Thousands were transported from Libya’s coast to its southern border.
Beyond keeping tight control over Egypt’s coastline, El-Sisi could have important influence with the military and militias in lawless, neighboring Libya; a main departure point for migrants trying to enter Europe through Italy. Already, Tusk is lobbying to hold an EU-Arab League summit in Cairo in February.
The call comes after a summer in which Italy’s anti-migrant government closed its ports to NGO ships, and even its own coast guard, carrying people rescued at sea. Hundreds of migrants spent unnecessary days at sea or aboard boats while EU countries bickered over who should take them.
Looking for help from El-Sisi is a new sign of the EU’s determination to outsource the migrant challenge, even though arrival numbers are barely a trickle compared to 2015, when well over a million people entered Europe, mostly fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.
EU countries are studying plans to create “disembarkation platforms” in northern African countries, where people rescued at sea could be dropped off for screening. No African country has expressed interest in hosting one so far.
The EU’s inability to balance responsibility for the migrants and share the burden of hosting them has been a vote-winner for far-right parties across the 28-nation bloc.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that Africa is not keen at the moment.
“If we take the approach of: ‘we don’t take them, you take them,’ that doesn’t fly,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean that North African countries would not be ready to cooperate with us, and with the UN, to have a reasonable, sustainable solution.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, who supports talks with North Africa, believes countries like Italy, Greece and Spain must take responsibility for migrant arrivals, but he also underlines the importance of European solidarity.
“There are rules and they have to be respected. We have to protect our citizens but we must do it while respecting our values. Also, responsibilities cannot be upheld if there is no solidarity,” he said.
Macron and the leaders of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands repeated a similar joint line on the balance between responsibilities and solidarity after talks earlier this month. However, they appeared to suggest that solidarity is best expressed by giving European money to partners who need help. No leader offered to share the refugee burden.
One idea raised in Salzburg has been for countries to pay money to Italy or Greece to take care of migrants themselves.
Asked how much a migrant was worth, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said, in an indignant tone: “We are not at the market. We are speaking about humans. We are not speaking about carpets or goods.”
He said that if Europe starts “to ask: ‘how much is the price of an immigrant?’ it’s a shame for all of us.”