Germany, France & Italy call for UK to pay multibillion-euro Brexit ‘divorce bill’

A number of EU states, including Germany, Italy, France and the Czech Republic have expressed their approval for the European Commission’s plan to demand that the UK pays a hefty compensation bill before the Brexit talks will even start.

French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Italian Minister for EU affairs Sandro Gozi and a number of senior German diplomats have backed the European Commission’s calls for the UK to come to an arrangement on the “divorce settlement” before any negotiations on the future of British relations with the EU could take place.

According to the Financial Times, Gozi called the possibility of parallel talks on the terms of the UK exit from the bloc and its future trading relationship with the EU “a bad idea.”

The view was later echoed by the Czech lawmakers, who also issued a statement backing the Commission’s demands.

“Although an agreement on a future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU is, from a long-term perspective, a key part of the process, it should be preceded by an agreement on the basic outline of the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which will serve as the framework for negotiations on future relations,” the statement says, as cited by the Guardian.

On February 23, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern told Bloomberg that Brexit “is for sure going to be costly [for the UK] because there are a lot of financial obligations.”

The check should be around €60 billion, that’s what the European Commission has calculated and this will be part of the negotiations,” the official said.

Earlier this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the Commission would seek a compensation payment from May’s government to cover the costs of commitments the UK has already undertaken but would not fulfill due to its exit from the bloc.

Discussions are under way in Brussels to determine the size of the bill to be presented to May when she launches withdrawal talks, expected in March. According to media reports, the “divorce bill” is likely to total £60 billion ($75 billion), to be paid in instalments until 2023.

“The maximum level of UK gross liabilities could be estimated to amount to around €80bn,” the Guardian reports, citing unnamed EU officials.

The “bill” is expected to include the UK’s share of the cost of projects and programs it previously agreed to as well as the cost of pensions for staff in the institutions and the relocation costs of the EU institutions currently based in London, including the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and the European Banking Authority.

The Times reported Tuesday that Germany could take the side of the UK and stop the Commission from presenting the multibillion divorce bill immediately after May begins the Brexit process, and even support the idea of parallel talks. The Telegraph said at that time that there was a deep split between France, Germany and the European Commission over how to calculate what Britain owes.

However, even though the situation has changed, Brussels is still concerned with the potential outrage that the demand for compensation could provoke in London.

The scenario of setting a heavy Brexit ‘divorce’ bill could prove to be risky as it might cause backlash by the UK during negotiations,” European Parliament officials told the committee on economic and monetary affairs, as cited by the Guardian.

Earlier, the UK trade secretary, Liam Fox, denounced this idea as “absurd.”

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Half-empty deportation flight to Afghanistan highlights ongoing issues for Germany

Half-empty deportation flight to Afghanistan highlights ongoing issues for Germany
In what has become a regular occurrence in recent months, a deportation flight bound for Kabul, Afghanistan, took off from Germany with less than half of the expected passengers on board.

While 50 people were scheduled to be repatriated, “in fact, only 18 got on the flight,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate was quoted as saying by The Local.

“There are always a few who don’t turn up because of different reasons – health reasons, successful applications for urgent rights protection of which there are three cases here… Others go into hiding or seek asylum in churches,” he added.

“That’s why the government has initiated several measures, including for example no longer announcing such flights in advance,” Plate confirmed.

This is the third wave of deportations since December as part of an ongoing, Europe-wide effort to alleviate the refugee crisis. A flight from Germany to Afghanistan in December 2016, when the current phase of the repatriation initiative began, had 16 of 50 passengers disappear.

“We sent home 80,000 last year whose asylum applications were rejected – that’s a record… And the number will rise again further,” Peter Altmaier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff told Bild in an interview.

“There were some 700,000 asylum applications in 2016 and nearly 300,000 were rejected. We’ll be sending these people home quickly, because if we don’t, it’ll damage our credibility as a state based on the rule of law,” he added.

There is still strong support for refugees to remain in the country, as evidenced by the 300 protesters at Munich airport on Wednesday.

READ MORE: If Afghanistan collapses, 4mn more refugees will flood into Europe – Fallon

In addition, the German state of Schleswig-Holstein will not be deporting any refugees to Afghanistan until May 31, at the earliest. This bold move further highlights the complexity of the refugee crisis in Germany as national and state authorities clash on an ongoing basis.

“The security situation in Afghanistan may vary from region to region, but one cannot say that the situation anywhere in the country is particularly good,” Bärbel Kofler, the Bundestag’s human rights commissioner told the German Passauer Neue Presse newspaper, as reported by DW.

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