France presses for talks on Brexit before end of 2016

A Union flag topped with an EU flag is pictured ahead of a March for Europe protest against the Brexit vote in London on Sept 3, 2016.
A Union flag topped with an EU flag is pictured ahead of a March for Europe protest against the Brexit vote in London on Sept 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government on Wednesday (Sept 14) exerted new pressure on Britain to resume negotiations over its exit from the European Union, two days ahead of a summit in Bratislava to discuss the European Union's future after the Brexit vote.

"On Brexit, France wants talks to begin between now and the end of the year, or early next year," government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a news briefing.

A British Cabinet minister on Tuesday said the government would not trigger article 50, the formal step that will kick off negotiations on the terms of its exit from the EU, before its dedicated ministry was at full strength.

The European Commission on Wednesday named a senior German trade negotiator to join France's former EU finance commissioner at the head of the team negotiating Britain's departure from the European Union.

The appointment puts Paris and Berlin, the two most powerful remaining EU governments, at the heart of talks likely to hinge on trade and the future of the City of London, Britain's financial centre.

The Commission said Ms Sabine Weyand, the deputy director in its trade department, will join the task force head, Mr Michel Barnier, who was appointed in July. The force "will coordinate the Commission's work on all strategic, operational, legal and financial issues related to these negotiations," it said in a statement.

The Franco-German duo underscores how Paris and Berlin are eager to shape Britain's exit from the world's largest trade bloc once London, in all likelihood next year, formally activates its withdrawal.

Commission chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker warned on Wednesday that London could not access the single market if it barred some EU citizens from working in Britain, while European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said the talks offered an occasion for progress rather than revenge.

Mr Barnier, who drew up Brussels' response to the global financial crisis, said last week he wanted a good deal with Britain. He has brushed aside concerns about the tense relationship he had with London over tougher rules sensitive to the City during his tenure as the Commission's financial regulation chief from 2010 to 2014.

In 2010, Britain's The Telegraph published an article asking if Mr Barnier was "the most dangerous man in Europe".

Financial services account for around 10 per cent of Britain's economy, a larger share than in other big economies, and some British officials are seeking a new relationship with the EU based on a far-reaching free trade deal including services.

Ms Weyand, who served in the Cabinet of French former EU trade chief Pascal Lamy from 1999 to 2004, has dealt with trade issues allied to Britain's interests, including talks under way with the United States on a trade and investment accord.

She also studied at Britain's Cambridge University in the 1980s.