France and Germany lead the field in preparing for Brexit talks

20 March 2017 1:23pm

3 March 2017. By Simon Taylor and Will Jarvis.

Fewer than a third of EU countries have set up dedicated task forces to deal with the complex negotiations on the UK leaving the bloc, according to research conducted by MLex.

France and Germany are leading the field with large and well-staffed task forces already up and running. Ireland, which shares a land border with the UK, Malta, which has the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of June, and Estonia, which takes over the presidency from Malta, also have teams in place.

Around a third of the 27 countries have yet to set up task forces or have decided not to do so and will leave the bulk of the work to the European Commission, which is the lead negotiator in the Brexit talks.

The picture of widely varying degrees of readiness for the Brexit negotiations in the EU partly reflects the fact that the formal start of the process leading to the talks has not taken place. That will happen at the end of March, when UK Prime Minister Theresa May sends a letter to the 27 EU national leaders informing them that the UK wants to leave the EU.

EU leaders plan to keep tight political control over the negotiations and each leader's sherpa, a high-ranking civil servant, will be in charge of overseeing the course of discussions and preparing the summit meetings of leaders at which the major decisions will be made.

The table, compiled by MLex, includes a list of each country's sherpa, although they are not necessarily responsible for the Brexit talks.

In most cases, the national Brexit taskforces are responsible for coordinating each national government's position across the wide range of ministries dealing with EU policies and are located within the country's foreign ministry.

This is the case for Germany's team, headed by Peter Ptassek, deputy director of the European department of Germany's foreign ministry. Uwe Corsepius, a former secretary-general of the Council of the EU, is taking the political lead as EU affairs adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In France, the Brexit task force is headed by Philippe Léglise-Costa, a former deputy ambassador to the EU. He heads the secretariat-general for EU affairs with responsibility for coordinating the French government's position across all ministries.

The Czech Republic has appointed Tomas Prouza, the state secretary for European affairs, to lead the negotiations and be the sherpa for Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Slovakia has appointed Ivan Korčok, state secretary for EU affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as sherpa to Robert Fico, the prime minister. Leonard Orban, a former European commissioner, is sherpa for Romania's president, Klaus Johannis.

Estonia has selected Matti Maasikas, the deputy minister for EU affairs and a former ambassador to the EU, as head of the Brexit task force. Estonia takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU on July 1.

Ireland has put Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister, in charge of its Brexit task force. She is also the lead minister on a Brexit committee in the Department of the Taoiseach, the secretariat supporting Ireland's prime minister.

The sherpas will play a central role in the negotiations when they get under way in May or June.

First, leaders of the 27 EU countries will meet, probably near the end of April, to agree on guidelines for the discussions. This will set out the parameters within which the European Commission's negotiating team, led by former commissioner Michel Barnier, can deal with the UK. The sherpas meet to prepare summit meetings.

The commission will prepare detailed negotiating directives for each areas of EU policy. These will be approved by national ministers for EU affairs when they meet for the General Affairs Council in April or May.

Brexit Special Report