European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

newsRemarks by Donald Tusk after his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Go raibh maith agat, Taoiseach. I heard that the last days were particularly difficult in Ireland because of the severe weather, particularly for people in the countryside. But let me reassure you that I have not come here to chill the air, but rather to warm it up. I may be from the East, but I am not a Beast.

I have come to Dublin to consult with the Taoiseach and discuss Ireland's concerns on several important issues ahead of the European Council in two weeks. The European Union is a family of free nations, linked by values. For sure, we may not always be in agreement on everything. But in times of trouble, families come together and stand with each other. For the EU27, this is especially true when we talk about Brexit.

In December, also with the active participation of the Taoiseach, we addressed the most difficult issues resulting from the UK's departure in 2019. Without the progress achieved in December, moving to the second phase of negotiations would not have been possible. But we also have to be clear that any backsliding on the commitments made so far would create a risk to further progress in Brexit negotiations. This applies also to the question of avoiding a hard border.

When I was in London last week, I heard very critical comments by Prime Minister May, and others, about the way the Irish border issue was presented in the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

We know today that the UK government rejects: "a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea"; the EU Single Market and the customs union. While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border. As long as the UK doesn't present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations. If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.

Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, ratified by large majorities North and South of the border. We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016, just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences. The risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs. So we will be firm on this.

Yesterday in Luxembourg, I presented my draft guidelines to shape our future relationship with the UK after Brexit. Also yesterday, the UK Chancellor made a speech, in the City of London, arguing for a bespoke deal or an ambitious FTA covering financial services. So let me refer to this issue of such great interest to London.

In the FTA we can offer trade in goods, with the aim of covering all sectors, subject to zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions. But services are not about tariffs. Services are about common rules, common supervision, and common enforcement. To ensure a level playing field. To ensure the integrity of the Single Market. And ultimately also to ensure financial stability. This is why we cannot offer the same in services as we can offer in goods. And it's also why FTAs don't have detailed rules for financial services. We should all be clear that also when it comes to financial services, life will be different after Brexit.

I also heard the Chancellor's words about financial services being "very much in the mutual interest" of the UK and EU. I fully respect the Chancellor's competence in defining what's in the UK's interest. I would, however, ask to allow us to define what's in the EU's interest.

Finally, let me add that during my visit in Luxembourg yesterday, I experienced what European solidarity with Ireland means. As you know, every country has its own problems resulting from Brexit. So does Luxembourg. But one of the first issues raised by Prime Minister Bettel in our conversation, was the issue of our common position regarding Ireland. Since my last visit here in Dublin, I have spoken to virtually every EU leader, and every one of them – without exception – declared, just like Prime Minister Bettel did yesterday, that among their priorities are: protecting the peace process, and avoiding a hard border. The EU stands by Ireland. This is a matter between the EU27 and UK, not Ireland and the UK. Thank you.

Copyright European Union