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Press release Minister-President Office: “Pragmatic approach to a soft Brexit”

Minister-president Geert Bourgeois: “Of course I deplore the outcome of the referendum to leave the European Union. This weakens the UK, the EU and Flanders. The United Kingdom offers huge added value for Europe on a political and economic level. But we respect the British decision. Now we have to be pragmatic and take the necessary steps for a soft Brexit.”

Historic ties

Flanders and the United Kingdom have a very close relationship, not only politically, but also on an economic level.

Bourgeois: “The cultural and political ties between the Flemish and the British date back a long time and are very close. They have allowed both nations to create prosperity and security. We were each other’s allies in both good and bad times. The British casualties of both world wars, buried in Flanders Fields, will forever remain our precious common heritage."

"The United Kingdom is a very important business partner for Flanders: it’s our fourth export market. Especially in those industries where Flanders excels – like food and textiles – it’s crucial that the trade across the Canal continues. That’s why we have to strive for a ‘soft’ Brexit.”

A soft Brexit means the EU and the United Kingdom will sign a (trade) agreement. Ideally this means an elimination of all tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.

Possible future scenarios are the following

  • The UK is offered membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), similar to Norway or Iceland;
  • The EU signs a free trade treaty with the United Kingdom in which both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers are eliminated, similar to what is currently being negotiated with the US (TTIP);
  • A tailor-made association treaty is concluded between the UK and the EU, similar to the one with Switzerland;
  • A customs union is set up, similar to the one with Turkey.

Extensive free trade agreement with the UK is crucial

Bourgeois: “It’s up to the British government to notify the decision to leave after which the exit negotiations could start, as specified in ‘Article 50’ of the Union treaty. These can take up to two years."

"But for Flanders, it’s crucial that, at the same time, parallel negotiations are started about a free trade treaty, as extensive as possible, with the United Kingdom, to eliminate all tariff or non-tariff trade barriers. We have to be pragmatic in the interest of our welfare and our jobs.”

The minister-president will advocate this approach in the preparation of the European Summit, taking place next week on June 28 and 29 in Brussels.

Thorough debate about the future

A thorough debate is also necessary within the EU.

Bourgeois: “The EU needs to regain trust and in order to do so, Europe needs to focus on those areas where, thanks to its scale, it can provide added value. A thorough debate on the future is needed. The Government of Flanders will present its own EU vision to this end."

"Not a leap into the dark, but an inventory of where we can reinforce each other such as in a common digital market and a energy union. A vision in which our starting point is a multi-layered Union with clear boundaries, efficient institutions, fiscal and social fairness and a transparent decision-making process, to instill trust in both citizens and corporations.”

24 June 2016