A Belgian diplomat and former advisor and later Chief of Staff to previous EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014), Seeuws has been a diplomat since 1989, having worked in Washington on economic and trade affairs, as well as in the Belgian Permanent Representation to the EU, where he was Deputy Permanent Representative. With Donald Tusk taking over the EU Council Presidency, Seeuws was appointed as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.
Seeuws is considered a respected and hard-working diplomat, who earned praise for handling the Greek debt negotiations by overcoming divisions between European heads of state and government to achieve a deal. He has a long-standing relationship with the European Parliament’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, as Seeuws served as his spokesman when Verhofstadt was Belgium’s Prime Minister.
The appointment of Seeuws to his current role was seen by the European Commission as a power grab on the part of the Council, following conflicting legal advice on which institution should take the lead. Consequently, the Council’s swift act to appoint a lead negotiator was viewed as a pre-emptive move, as it was reported at the time that Juncker’s Chief of Staff, Martin Selmayr had ambitions for the role. The Commission will nevertheless be closely involved, especially as a substantial repository of expertise, whose knowledge of legislation and the Treaties is far superior to that of the Council. The Council team will therefore mainly be tasked with keeping the 27 remaining national Governments united throughout the negotiations.
The Commission was reportedly concerned that the Council might give the UK an easier ride during the negotiations, which could set a precedent for other countries considering leaving the EU. If that was indeed a concern, the appointment of Michel Barnier to lead the negotiations on the Commission’s side has certainly conveyed that message.
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