Maeve Whyte, NFU director of Brussels office
WHEN the UK voted to leave the European Union, it chose to switch the seat of power from Brussels to the UK.
However, until we are no longer a member state – whenever this may be – Brussels will be a vital part of UK farmers’ lives and the EU has wasted no time in selecting the team to fight its corner.
Representing the European Commission will be Frenchman Michel Barnier who, as EU Commissioner for Internal Markets, imposed heavy limits on the amount of money bankers could award themselves as bonuses.
Naturally, this hit London’s financial centres hardest and in 2010 The Daily Telegraph questioned whether he was ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’?
He once told journalists Britain would have to accept freedom of movement ‘without exception’ if it wanted to retain access to the single market.
Barnier has since established a Brexit taskforce made up of the commission’s most high flying officials.
The European Parliament also looks set to play hardball. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt will act as the lead negotiator on behalf of MEPs.
It would be an understatement to describe Mr Verhofstadt as pro-European. Speaking in the European Parliament last week, he painted Brexit as being a positive step for Europe. “Let us seize this opportunity not to kill Europe, as some of you want, but to reinvent Europe,” he said.
But he is not without his critics.
Mr Verhofstadt’s YouTube exchanges with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage are well worth a watch. Responding to Verhofstadt’s appointment, Mr Farage said: “I frankly think this is pretty much a declaration of war on any sensible negotiating process.”
The real power in these negotiations lies with the 27 EU Prime Ministers.
Represented by the European Council, they will dictate the direction and pace of travel and, with the appointment of Mr Didier Seeuws to lead their internal taskforce, development of a negotiating strategy is already underway.
Mr Seeuws previously worked alongside Guy Verhofstadt. A career civil servant, he is known to have a talent for detail, a strong network and a sharp political intelligence.
The NFU has had an office in Brussels since 1972, a year before the UK signed up to the European Economic Community.
With uncertainty raging over when Article 50 will be triggered, it is essential the NFU maintains its influence in Brussels.
However the negotiations progress, European rules and regulations will continue to affect UK farmers right up until the moment we leave. Even then, European laws could be the words we live by.