Public Affairs

Brussels to remain neutral in brexit debate

The European Commission’s Head of Representation for the United Kingdom, Jacqueline Minor claims Brussels will take no stance on Brexit debate.

Jacqueline Minor, head of the EU Commission representation in the UK recently visited Belfast. During her visit, she made it clear that Brussels will not take a stance – one way or the other – as whether or not Britain should stay in or leave the EU.

“The job of the Commission is to present the facts of the case, nothing else. This is not a policy matter for the Commission. It is up to the British people to decide on whether they want to stay in the European Union or not.”

But Minor did make it clear that the UK government will have to put its demands for change formally to the Commission in writing.

“This is the way that the EU works. Every issue must be addressed on the basis of it having a formal paper trail,” she said. “I am assuming that the UK will seek a number of changes to its EU membership criteria, prior to any referendum taking place. However, these requests must be formally submitted before they can be discussed at any level within the European Union.” 

Minor also made it clear that the Commission will not be compiling a portfolio, reflecting the pros and cons associated with the economics of Britain’s EU membership. 

“This is a job for the authorities in London,” she said. “However, I believe that the Dublin government intends to get involved in this particular matter and may well produce an economic report of its own.”

Minor has been the European Commission’s Head of Representation in the United Kingdom since 2013. She was formerly a lecturer in law at Leicester University before working for the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the European Commission in Brussels. In 2003 she was appointed a Director in the European Commission. Minor became the European Commission’s Director for Consumer Policy in 2008. 

While not wishing to express a view on the upcoming referendum, Minor did confirm that the United Kingdom punches below its weight when it comes to its representation at staff level within the EU Commission.

“And this reflects the lack of good language skills within the UK’s working population,” she said. “All Commission employees must be fluent in at least two languages. And Britain’s failing in this regard is an opportunity for other member states.” 

Minor said that in the event of the United Kingdom voting to leave the EU, all Commission staff who come originally from Britain will be re-patriated.

“And the UK will be expected to cover this cost in full. The European Constitution states quite clearly that only European Union nationals can work for the Commission. Though this may not be a problem for those Commission staff who hail from Northern Ireland, as they can claim dual citizenship.”

The Commission representative confirmed that the EU is widening the scope of activities that are regarded as budget priorities. 

“This is why the relative spend dedicated to agriculture is falling,” she said. “But this does not mean that Europe is becoming a cold house for farmers. Indeed, the opposite is the case. The support monies on offer from Europe account for the bulk of the profits made by farmers in Northern Ireland.” 

For its part, the Commission recognises that many farming families are deeply concerned about the future prospects of their industry. In response to this, Brussels has acted to ensure the sustainability of the farming sector throughout Europe. According to Minor this will always be the case. 

“Innovation must also be a key driver within the farming and food sectors,” she said. “And, again, the Commission is acting to ensure this will be the case.”

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