European Union

This information is from our Brexit archives, documenting what different countries thought of the negotiations, their relationship with the UK and priorities in the negotiations.

This page was last updated in 2020.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Germany, European People’s Party, since December 2019)
European Council President Charles Michel (Belgium, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, since December 2019)
Parliament President David Sassoli (Italy, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, since July 2019)
Population 513,481,690 (2019)
Size 4,475,757 km² (1,728,099 sq. miles)
Next parliamentary election  2024
Last meeting with Boris Johnson Ursula von der Leyen: 8 January 2020
Brexit priorities The EU, meanwhile, was quick in accusing the UK of “cherry-picking” – trying to keep elements of EU membership it liked without taking the associated responsibilities. Maintaining the integrity of the Single Market, constituting the freedom of goods, capital, services and people, has been the EU’s top priority from the start. This was also highlighted in the European Council’s first set of negotiating guidelines.

Other main objectives of the EU included securing citizens’ rights, agreeing a financial settlement and ensuring the Irish border remains open. EU leaders emphasised that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, meaning the transitional period (to run until 31 December 2020) will not enter into force unless all the withdrawal terms have been agreed on and approved by both parties.

Overall, the EU’s goal is to maintain unity among the EU27 to ensure its negotiation position remains strong. It will also want to make Brexit look like an unattractive prospect for other countries.

What the former Presidents said on Brexit President Juncker

“We need to settle our affairs not with our hearts full of a feeling of hostility, but with the knowledge that the continent owes a lot to the UK.” “Without [Winston] Churchill, we would not be here – we mustn’t forget that, but we mustn’t be naïve. Our British friends need to know – and they know it already – that it will not be cut-price or zero cost.”

Former EP President Tajani

“The European Parliament will have a central role in deciding the outcome of the negotiations.”

President Tusk

“It is our wish to make this process constructive and conducted in an orderly manner. However, the claims increasingly taking the form of threats, that no agreement would be good and bad for the EU needs to be addressed. I want to be clear that a no-deal scenario would be bad for everyone but above all for the U.K. because it would leave a number of issues unresolved.”

President Juncker

“Britain’s example will make everyone realise that it’s not worth leaving. Half memberships and cherry-picking aren’t possible. In Europe you eat what’s on the table or you don’t sit at the table.” 

President Tusk

“Therefore, we must do everything we can to make the process of divorce the least painful for the EU. “Our main priority for the negotiations must be to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for all citizens, companies and member states that will be negatively affected by Brexit, as well as our important partners and friends around the world.”

President Tusk

“There is nothing to win in this process, and I am talking about both sides. In essence, this is about damage control. Our goal is clear: to minimise the costs for the EU citizens, businesses and Member States. We will do everything in our power – and we have all the tools – to achieve this goal.”

President Tusk

“The UK must be aware that any free trade agreement will have to ensure a level playing field, and encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, tax, social, environmental and regulatory measures and practices.”

Former EP President Tajani

“The European Parliament’s position is clear. Preserving the rights of the millions of EU citizens affected by Brexit, securing the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland and honouring the financial commitments made by the British government will be indispensable in securing the European Parliament’s approval of a potential exit deal.”


The EU’s priorities EU citizens went to the polls on 23-26 May 2019 to elect Members of the European Parliament for the next five-year term. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) remained the largest party but lost a significant number of seats. The social democrats (S&D) suffered the same defeat, losing 39 seats as well – meaning that the grand coalition between these two parties was lost.

Meanwhile, the liberals – the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group has climbed to third place with 109 seats, mainly thanks to the French President’s LREM (La République En Marche) joining the force. Another striking result was that of the Greens. While they still only have 67 out of 751 seats, their surge in popularity – particularly in countries like Germany and the UK – would make them a key player in EU governance.

Overall, the huge victory expected on the far-right did not materialise, with most of these parties retaining their old positions or making only slight gains (Germany’s ‘Alternative for Germany’ – AfD), and some even losing their seats (Netherlands’ Party of Freedom – PVV).

Following the election result, the European Council nominated German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, as President of the European Commission. She was confirmed by the European Parliament and has formed her College of Commissioners. Following parliamentary hearings, the College as a whole will be approved by the European Parliament in October. The new European Commission will take office on 1 November 2019.

Von der Leyen’s agenda for Europe, A union that strives for more, presents an ambitious plan which is designed to bring the EU closer to its people and needs.

On climate action, the Commission aims to create the first European Climate Law which would enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality target into law. Part of the European Green Deal, a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 will be put in place. Von der Leyen also wants Europe to lead on the issue of single-use plastics.

Regarding the economy, the Commission intends to support innovation by supporting small businesses with a dedicated strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises, including a private-public fund specialising in Initial Public Offerings.

The Commission also aims to make Europe fit for digital age: one of the main priorities on digitalisation is to ensure EU prioritises investments in Artificial Intelligence via the Multi-annual Financial Framework and through public-private partnerships. Completing the EU Digital Single Market should remain high on the Commission’s agenda.

Who’s in charge? Very shortly after the Brexit referendum, the three key institutions, Commission, Council and Parliament, began a power struggle as to who would be taking the lead in the negotiations. The Commission was quick to preempt the Council, appointing Commission veteran Michel Barnier to the post, a move that reportedly infuriated the Council. Eventually all three institutions appointed their Chief negotiators, with Didier Seeuws Representing the Council and Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt representing the Parliament. The Commission and the Council play a key role with the Parliament taking a back seat. The European Parliament will have a vote on the final Brexit deal.