Daniel Gueguen

In the history of the EU, only two initiatives have created a direct link between the Union and its citizens: the Erasmus Programme and the annual nomination of a ‘European Capital of Culture’.

According to the Journal des Arts, “the five UK candidates for Capital of Culture in 2023 have been eliminated due to the planned withdrawal from the EU”. For the candidate team from Dundee, the news hit them “like a bomb”. The reaction was the same in Leeds, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Belfast.

Reacting to this traumatic moment, Director-General of DG Culture Martine Reicherts said “Applications are not open to third countries, with the exception of candidates countries and those who are members of the EEA or EFTA.” Thus, Stavanger, Reykjavik and Istanbul were selected since they fulfilled the criteria, but not the five UK candidates.

In a letter addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, the UK authorities find it “inexplicable that the European Union waited until after the bids from the United Kingdom had been submitted before ruling them all ineligible, when it has been aware of the United Kingdom’s decision since June 2016.”

Some are thoughtless, others have appetites

The story is amusing because it shows the inconsistency of the British who, without taking a moment to think, filed an application after the referendum in the hope of winning the 2023 European Capital of Culture.

But even more surprising was the response of Ms Reicherts, a very experienced civil servant who is close to Mr Juncker. According to her, the UK will be a third country in 2023, a member neither of the European Economic Area (EEA) nor the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

For the 27, the same spirit prevails: what matters is who benefits from the relocation of the agencies and the expected decline in the City of London.

At the same time, the UK authorities want to have their cake and eat it. They dream of a kind of Holy Grail involving full access to the EU market while re-modelling the tax system to boost their attractiveness, derogating from free movement of workers and preserving their European financial passport.

A Plan B that will let everyone save face

If all that I have set out above comes to pass, the EU-UK separation will become a rupture, which is exactly what should be avoided. In the UK, confusion reigns supreme and the pseudo-agreements made to advance towards trade talks are only an illusion. The British Parliament, witnessing a government all at sea, has just gained the upper hand by obtaining a veto right over the final deal.

In Brussels, our negotiators may be very smooth and gentlemanly, but they are very determined in their work and, with the full support of the 27, have set clear red lines: no unravelling of the EU acquis and no unjustified concession to the UK.

The harsh wake-up call will come soon: the UK, its leaders and its citizens will realise that the agreement they have concluded, allegedly good for them, is but an illusion, as Brexit is a lose-lose situation.

This makes it necessary to plan right now for the possibility of failure and explore alternative solutions that can be proposed to the UK, either staying in the EU as a full member or as part of a ‘second circle’. What we need is an inter-institutional group of legal experts to define the terms of the latter solution, before it is too late.


Daniel Guéguen



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