The European Union completed the preparations necessary to begin talks over Britain’s exit from the bloc on Monday after the remaining 27 EU member states signed off on the final details of the bloc’s negotiating mandate.
While the approval means that the EU now stands ready to begin talks, negotiations are expected to commence only during the week of June 19, after the bloc had said it would wait for the outcome of Britain’s general election on June 8.
“I hope to organise the first round of negotiations as soon as possible, hopefully the week of June 19,” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday.
He said he wanted to give a first report on the negotiations to EU leaders during an EU summit set for June 22 to June 23.
During the meeting, European affairs ministers approved a package authorizing the opening of negotiations, nominating the European Commission as the party negotiating on the EU’s behalf and adopting detailed directives for the talks based on political guidelines provided by 27 EU leaders in April.
“Today, we have concluded the preparatory phase of this journey; we now have all the structures in place as well as the mandate,” said Maltese Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
“As far as the EU 27 is concerned, negotiations can now actually start.”
Before the meeting, several ministers signalled that they stood firm by the EU’s demand for Britain to settle its financial commitments to the bloc.
“I think it’s very British to know that if you’re part of a club and you leave, you have to settle your accounts,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz called for reforms and cuts within the EU after Britain’s exit will leave the bloc with an annual budget gap of 14 billion euros (15.7 billion dollars).
“There are many areas where we can save money,” Kurz told reporters.