“I will feel sad on the day that the United Kingdom delivers its letter, for withdrawing from the European Union, to Brussels. Brexit is a tragedy. A failure and a tragedy,” said Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission during an interview for BBC. On 29th March Theresa May is going to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, thus starting the official negotiations for Brexit.
Juncker will preside over the EU Summit in Rome on Saturday. The Summit is to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of the Union, which was founded as the “European Coal and Steel Community”, in 1957. The EU has faced many challenges in the last few years. The US banking crisis of 2008 spread to the EU, which added to state structural problems, and created fiscal deficits in countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus. Spain and Italy are also facing economic problems that don’t allow them to be equal with other global market competitors.
Unemployment and a wave of anti-establishment populism shakes the foundations of the Union. The “Yes” vote on Brexit referendum and the impending negotiations, is one of the biggest problems that Juncker faces. “We are not in the best form and shape we could be in” conceded the Luxemburgish politician. The British prime minister won’t be attending the meeting of the EU27 leaders in Rome, marking the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom’s presence in the EU. Juncker said that he will definitely miss Theresa May and continued: “I am everything but in a hostile mood with Great Britain. Britain is a part of Europe, and I hope to have a friendly relationship with the UK over the next decades.”
The good feelings of Juncker towards Britain don’t mean that they will affect the upcoming Brexit negotiations. “The EU and the Commission will negotiate with the UK in a friendly way-fair but never naïve,” Juncker told the BBC, sending a strong message to everyone who thinks that the negotiations will be “a walk in the park.” The president of the Commission repeated the opinion of many EU leaders that believe, that the UK should pay a considerable sum of money as a divorce bill. “It’s an invoice that must be paid. You can’t pretend you were never a part of the Union. The British government and parliament took on some commitments as EU members and they must be honoured. This isn’t a punishment or sanctions against the UK,” said the president of the Commission, in a way that leaves little space for diplomatic maneuvers on this subject.
The exact cost of the bill will be “scientifically calculated,”, according to Juncker. The leader of one of the most powerful EU institutions said on BBC, that the only thing he won’t negotiate over are the lives of the UK citizens in the EU and of EU citizens in the UK. “The lives of 4,5 million people are not for bargaining. This is about respecting human dignity.” commented Jean Claude Juncker, allowing the affected citizens to hope that life will go on as it is now.
Since the Brexit vote, Juncker has pledged to make sure that the negotiations will be according to the rules and yield satisfactory results. He has been a voice of calmness, in contrast with other EU leaders that want to punish the UK for exiting the Union. As he says, a good Brexit deal will be in the interest of both the EU and the UK.