EU Council President Donald Tusk presented the main elements of his proposed negotiating guidelines for Brexit talks in Malta to the 27 EU leaders, two days after British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the two-year withdrawal process.
“The talks, which are about to start will be difficult, complex, and sometimes even confrontational. There is no way around it. The EU27 does not and will not pursue a punitive approach. Brexit in itself is already punitive enough,” he said.
Tusk said the goal is essentially damage control.
He said the council’s duty is to “minimize the uncertainty and disruption” caused by Brexit for EU citizens, businesses and member states.
Tusk made clear that negotiations will be presented in phases so not all issues will be tackled at once.
The first phase will be focused on the divorce settlement and Britain needs to show sufficient progress on that before EU states can agree to launch the second phase, which will focus on trade talks and the framework for the two sides’ future relationship.
During the first phase, there are four main priorities for the EU, according to Tusk.
The No. 1 is protecting the rights and statuses of EU citizens living in the U.K. with “reciprocal, enforceable and nondiscriminatory guarantees.” Second would be to prevent a legal vacuum for EU companies since EU laws will no longer apply to the U.K. after the divorce.
Third, the EU seeks to ensure that the U.K. honors all financial commitments and liabilities it took on while still a part of the bloc. Fourth, the EU will seek solutions aimed at avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“After more than 40 years of being united, we owe it to each other to do everything we can to make this divorce as smooth as possible,” Tusk concluded.
After these main issues are taken care of, Tusk said he shared the U.K.’s desire to establish a close partnership in their future relationship.