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9/29/2017

Theresa May is preparing for a key Brexit-focused meeting with newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


Theresa May is preparing for a key Brexit-focused meeting with newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of a European Union summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

It is the first face-to-face meeting between Mrs May and the German Chancellor, a key leader in the EU hierarchy, since Mrs May's speech in Florence in which she outlined her vision for Brexit.

Angela Merkel was re-elected as the German leader last weekend but with a weakened political grip. She now has many months of coalition building before she can form a government in Germany.

The EU summit, held in Estonia because it holds the current EU rotating presidency, is billed as a "digital summit".

It is designed to focus attention on innovation, research and investment to help foster a digital revolution.

The deployment was made in April in order to help provide a deterrence against what NATO and western Governments perceive as increased Russian assertiveness.

But the Brexit/security question has come under significant scrutiny over the past few months with some accusing Mrs May of using defence and security as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.

In her letter triggering Article 50 - the UK's formal intention to leave the EU - Mrs May seemed explicit that security co-operation was conditional on a deal.

In the March letter she wrote: "If... we leave the European Union without an agreement, the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.

"In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened."

Since then, the British tone has softened.

Last week in Florence, she said: "The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe's security.

"And the UK will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters."

This latest intervention, combined with a visit to see the British troops based in Estonia, appears to be an attempt to reassure her fellow leaders that British security support is unconditional.

The 28 EU leaders convened for a working dinner hosted by EU Council President Donald Tusk prior to the summit.

Mrs May sat with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa on her left and Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on her right.

Brexit is bound to have been discussed, and with PM Szydlo two of the three divorce issues - citizen's rights and the financial settlement - are key issues.

Poland is concerned about the fate of many hundreds of thousands of its citizens who live in the UK and who are currently unsure about their future.

On the financial settlement, Poland is one of a number of Eastern European countries who stand to lose out if Britain leaves a hole in the EU budget.

On Wednesday the fourth round of negotiations concluded in Brussels with both sides claiming some progress.

"We have had a constructive week yes but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress, more work is needed over the coming weeks and coming months," EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said.

"The only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken at 28 [member countries] are honoured at 28," he said, referring to what he believes is Britain's responsibility to pay a financial settlement.

The UK Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said: "I believe that thanks to the constructive and determined manner with which both sides have conducted these negotiations we are making decisive steps forward.

"We've made important progress and capitalised on the momentum created by the Prime Minister's speech.

"But we must also acknowledge that a major question remains open between us - it relates to the enforcement of citizens' rights after we leave the European Union.

"The UK has been clear that, as a third country outside of the European Union, it would not be right for this role to be performed by the European Court of Justice."

The terms of reference by which the UK can leave the EU state that sufficient progress must be made on three key divorce issues - the financial settlement, citizen's rights and the Irish border question - before talks can proceed to phase two - negotiation on the transitional deal and future relationship.

The UK side is increasingly frustrated at the its ability to be able to prove "sufficient progress".

It argues that key elements of all three of the divorce issues can only be discussed in the context of the future relationship.

Ultimately, the determination of "sufficient progress" will be made at a political level by EU leaders, on the advice from the negotiators.

And so top level political engagement between Theresa May and her EU counterparts provides the perfect forum for understanding, dialogue and pressure.

However, from a British perspective, Brexit is the focus.

According to Downing Street, Theresa May told her fellow European Union leaders that the UK is unconditionally committed to the defence and security of Europe despite Brexit.

Speaking ahead of her arrival in Tallinn, the Prime Minister said: "As we prepare for Brexit, I want to build a bold, new security partnership with the EU.

"A partnership that reflects our shared history, promotes our common values, and maintains a secure and prosperous Europe."

Tallinn is a symbolic place to bring up the issue of security. Eight hundred British solders are stationed in Estonia as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe.


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