I would like to report the outcome of the first formal meeting of the European Council of 27, which took place on 29th April. Our main purpose was to adopt political guidelines for the Brexit negotiations. A mandate that sets out the overall principles, objectives and process. And a mandate that the European Council will update as necessary, as the talks get under way.
A key element of the guidelines is the need to conduct the talks on the basis of a 'phased approach'. This means simply that there will be no discussion of the framework for our future relations with Britain, before sufficient progress is made on ensuring an orderly withdrawal. Leaders fully supported this logic.
To ensure an orderly withdrawal, we first and foremost need to address the situation of more than four million people, whose lives will be directly impacted by Brexit, on both sides. In a very real way, their futures depend on the outcome of these talks. It is our particular responsibility to secure the best guarantees for citizens - citizens of the Union - and for their families. That means guarantees that are effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, accompanied by simple and smooth administrative procedures. There is a need to act quickly, and so we are ready. Now we must move from sharing objectives to actually ensuring that citizens get the necessary guarantees. That's also why I welcome the fact that the Commission has already listed a number of detailed requirements.
The second priority in the first phase is the need to agree that all financial commitments undertaken by the EU of 28 will also be honoured by the UK. And thirdly, in order to protect the peace and reconciliation process described by the Good Friday Agreement, we must aim to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Only once there is sufficient progress on these priorities, can we proceed to the next phase of the negotiations about our future relations. And it will be for the European Council of 27 to assess and decide if - and when - we have achieved sufficient progress.
When it comes to our future, the European Council shared the United Kingdom's desire to establish a close partnership. It is obvious, however, that a relationship between the European Union and a non-Member State cannot offer the same benefits as EU membership. It is clear that a free trade agreement between the EU and the UK, which is what the UK has chosen, even if it is ambitious and wide-ranging, cannot mean participation in the Single Market or its parts. And at the same time, 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. Today it is too early to tell much more about our common future, but we will make our guidelines more precise when the time comes, namely when sufficient progress in the first phase is achieved.
Leaders responded with the urgency that the situation requires. There will be very little time to conclude withdrawal talks within the framework foreseen by the Treaty. Time is of the essence here, and much is at stake.
Next Monday, the Council will adopt a set of negotiating directives, proposed by the chief negotiator, on the basis of the guidelines we adopted on April 29th. These cover the three issues I have just mentioned, plus a number of other matters that need to be addressed in the first phase of the negotiations.
Since the referendum in June last year, we - the EU27 - have been united, consistent, and demonstrated solidarity with one another. What was - and remains - most important for me, is that our conduct in these talks will show the European Union at its best: in terms of unity, political solidarity and fairness towards the United Kingdom.
Finally, I can only praise the European Parliament and its leaders for the role they have played. Sincere thanks and appreciation for your constructive assistance. This bodes well - not only for the future of the negotiations, but our future as a Union of 27.
Until today I haven't witnessed such unity for the matters that I report here in the European Parliament. Our unity is the most important condition for the positive outcome of the negotiations. Thanks to this unity we will also be able, together with the leaders, to deal in the coming months, first and foremost, with a positive agenda for the Union of 27. I agree with my friend Guy Verhofstadt that this should be our priority, not Brexit. Today I will meet President Macron in Paris and I am really happy that also thanks to you, to this debate, we will be able to devote our meeting to the future of 27, not to Brexit.