Brexit Turbulence Ahead as Barroso Says EU Stricken by Elections

  • Former EU Commission president sees ‘complex’ negotiations
  • Says U.K. government still deciding its Brexit strategy

Elections next year in some of the European Union’s biggest economies will sow uncertainty and discord in the bloc’s approach to Brexit negotiations, according to Former European Commission President Jose Barroso.

“Before we have elections in France and Germany, it will be very difficult to articulate a position,” Barroso, who is now an adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in an interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “We are going to see for some time turbulence. We are going to see a bumpy negotiation. It’s going to be very complex.”

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The other 27 members of the EU have so far maintained a unified front on Brexit, especially on the idea that Britain won’t get access to the single market if it seeks to curb immigration. A single voice from the EU would increase its leverage in upcoming negotiations to hammer out details of the U.K.’s exit from the bloc. Germany and France, the two main pillars of the European project, face difficult elections next year as an immigration crisis has fomented a wave of populist support that threatens to overturn the establishment parties.

Euro-area countries with elections over the next 12 months

EU President Donald Tusk said in September that Britain faces a choice between a “hard Brexit” or “no Brexit” and that it’s time the U.K. realized that withdrawal “will be painful for Britons.” Prime Minister Theresa May’s preparations were thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a court said she couldn’t unilaterally begin the exit process and instead would require a vote in parliament.

“I think the British government has not yet decided exactly what strategy it’s following,” Barroso said. “There are doubts inside the Conservative Party between, let’s say, a more tough position -- the hard Brexiteers -- and others that want to remain in the single market.”

EU Leaders

Barroso’s appointment as an adviser to Goldman Sachs less than two years after his term ended sparked outrage from EU leaders, with French President Francois Hollande saying in July that it was “morally unacceptable.” After an investigation, the commission’s ethics committee decided last month that its code of conduct wasn’t violated.

Barroso, who once said he would wager that the U.K. wouldn’t vote to leave the EU, has defended his job at the New York-based lender, saying in September the position was legitimate and that he isn’t “responsible for things the bank might possibly have done in the past.” He’ll serve as a non-executive chairman and will advise the bank on global issues.

“I think Europe could have done more to avoid a separation of Britain,” Barroso said. “There also are huge responsibilities in London because when you are bashing the European Union for more than 20 years, you cannot expect people to change their minds in two months -- and that’s exactly what happened.”

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