August 24, 2016
My article ‘Barnier and Brexit: bad mood before the holidays’ provoked a lot of comment about the respective roles of the Commission and Council in the upcoming negotiations. Some people responded saying “the negotiations will be conducted by the Commission.” This is not accurate, but not necessarily inaccurate.
Article 50 of the Treaty does not refer to the Commission. It states that “in the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate” with the departing country.
To find out more about the Commission’s role in implementing Article 50, we must also refer to Article 218(3) of the Treaty, which says the Council of the EU shall appoint the negotiator or the head of the EU negotiating team. The Commission presents recommendations to the Council. It is therefore quite clear that if the European Council is in charge of launching Article 50, it will be the Council of the EU that designates the chief negotiator.
That is why Mr Didier Seeuws, appointed by President Tusk, has the title ‘Head of the General Secretariat of the Council – Task Force of the UK Brexit’, as this appointment took place before the initiation of Article 50.
This does not mean that Mr Barnier and Mr Seeuws cannot work together, nor does it mean that Mr Barnier could be designated as negotiator or co-chief negotiator. However, this scenario is not the most likely since, at the risk of repeating myself, it is indeed the Council of the European Union (the Council of Ministers) that will appoint the chief negotiator.