The three Brexiteers and the Prime Minister have dominated the front pages since June. They will be steering the ship for Britain during the negotiations, but who are the EU’s key players and power-brokers?
Michel Barnier – Chief Negotiator for the EU Commission
CV: Former Financial Services Commissioner and French Minister.
Role: Appointed Chief Brexit Negotiator by the European Commission last year, Barnier has been leading preparations for the negotiations and will represent the tip of the spear when talks with UK representatives begin in earnest.
Stance and style: The smooth and serious Frenchman has been previously described by the pro-Brexit press as the ‘most dangerous man in Europe’.
He is tough and will not want to give the UK or the City a special deal. He has stressed numerous times that his interest lies in protecting the remaining 27 states and has delivered thinly-veiled swipes at the UK – ‘it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone’.
Jean-Claude Juncker – President of the Commission
CV: Former President of the Euro Group and ex-Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Role: Responsible for implementation of wider EU legislative position and for dealing with the impact of the Brexit on existing EU policies and initiatives. After being mandated by the Council, Juncker’s Commission will use its legal and policy experience to draft a more detailed proposal for the negotiations – including a recommendation on the initial ‘ask’ for each policy area.
Stance and style: A volatile character who is a huge believer in a federalist Europe, some expect him to push for a punishment deal that makes other Members think twice about leaving. However, rumours continue to fly that he is thinking about resigning following internal criticism of his handling of Brexit.
Donald Tusk – President of the EU Council
CV: Former Prime Minister of Poland.
Role: When the remaining 27 Heads of Government gather as the European Council to discuss the triggering of Article 50, as its President, it will be Tusk who mandates the Commission to begin negotiations.
Tusk will also work closely with other European leaders in setting the overarching agenda for negotiations and securing a common position. In 2019, it will also be Tusk’s Council that ultimately sign off any Brexit deal, so his importance cannot be underplayed.
Stance and style: Quiet, charismatic and intelligent, Tusk has so far stuck to a hard-line position on the upcoming negotiations – ‘the only real alternative to hard Brexit is no Brexit’. We can’t therefore expect him to shy away from brinksmanship.
Angela Merkel – German Chancellor
CV: 11 years as Chancellor of Germany and former research scientist.
Role: No official role other than leader of the EU27’s biggest economy, who will seek to ensure any deal doesn’t threaten the stability of the Eurozone.
Stance and style: Germany’s economic dominance means that whatever happens, Merkel will wield considerable weight in negotiations. Famed for her pragmatism, the UK hopes she will be the most amenable of the major players to a mutually beneficial arrangement. However, her rhetoric so far has been tough, particularly regarding Single Market access and the free movement of people. With populist pressure still lingering following her handling of the migrant crisis and elections of her own in September (featuring a UKIP-style threat from the AfD party and a resurgent Social Democratic Party), Merkel may need to use Brexit to play to the crowd.
Guy Verhofstadt – Lead Rapporteur for the EU Parliament
CV: Former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the EU Council.
Role: He will be represent the European Parliament throughout negotiations, although he will not have a seat at the negotiating table. Nonetheless, his role remains substantial as Parliament must approve any final deal.
Stance and style: The uber-federalist has been making waves in the UK media with his tough rhetoric and unexpected announcements on potentially letting UK nationals pay for continued EU citizenship. Expect the relentless self-publicist to attempt to make headlines of his own over the coming months as negotiations are underway – especially if he feels side lined by his EU colleagues.
Didier Seeuws – Leader of the EU Council Taskforce
CV: Former advisor to the Belgian Permanent Representative to the EU and ex-spokesperson for Verhofstadt.
Role: Easily the least well known of all the Union’s significant players, Verhofstadt’s former spokesman will lead the Council’s Brexit Taskforce. Seeuws will closely support President Tusk in representing the positions of Member States throughout negotiations, and guiding the remaining 27 to a deal which all find acceptable.
Stance and style: More of a civil servant than a politician, the pragmatic EU expert will be one of the intellectual drivers of negotiations. As can be expected of a man with a reputation for being a backroom operator, he has made no public comment on Brexit and kept mostly to the shadows.
On a day-to-day basis, Barnier will be supported by a wider team of negotiating experts and specialists from every policy chapter that is under discussion.