The Minister-President of Flanders, Belgium, is strongly opposed to the European Union (EU) attempting to “punish” the UK in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, recognising the substantial damage this could inflict on EU exporters.
“A couple of countries are in a punishment project,” Geert Bourgeois told Politico. “Flanders will be hit hard by what I call a hard Brexit.”
Eighty-seven per cent of Belgium’s exports to the United Kingdom come from Flanders, with almost 10 per cent of total the Dutch-speaking region’s exports being bought in Britain.
“We have to negotiate [a trade deal] in parallel with the new agreement [on an exit settlement], so we don’t get a situation where we have to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules,” Bourgeois said.
“[A] bastion, a ‘Fortress UK,’ that’s a lose-lose – and we’ll be the first victim of it.”
The Flemish leader has the power to veto the EU’s final deal, which has to be approved by Belgium’s individual regions, giving him more influence over the proceedings than might be expected.
He is one of a growing number of senior European leaders who have come out in favour of a “trade-plus” deal with the UK.
For example, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has said that his countrymen “reject the approach according to which the British must be punished; their decision must be respected”.
Speaking at the ‘Europe After Brexit’ conference in March 2017, the Fidesz politician warned: “Losing such a partner [as the UK] and giving it away to others would be a suicidal strategy.”
Szijjártó said that Hungary would push for a comprehensive tariff-free trade deal, to avoid “a situation where Britain is better off trading with the Americans, Turks, Indians, Australians or Japanese”.
The chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, has also come out to say he wants a close relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit, and hopes to lead an alliance of member-states which do not favour the line that Britain must be made into an example.
“Officially everyone loves the United Kingdom and doesn’t want to give them a hard time,” Kaczyński said in February. “But some people really want to make it as tough as possible for the United Kingdom.
“Meanwhile some of us would like to sustain a kind of partnership with the United Kingdom. Not within Europe – since you do not wish to remain inside – but very close and friendly relations from outside the European Union. Poland belongs to the second category of voices.”