STRASBOURG, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Members of European Parliament (MEPs), meeting here for a plenary session, voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to adopt a resolution outlining major conditions for the approval of any final settlement on the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union (EU).
Adopted by 516 votes in favor to 133 against, with 50 abstentions, the resolution establishes the key principles by which the European Parliament will be willing to greenlight the outcomes of Brexit negotiations.
"Your resolution will be the first political position taken by a European institution in response to last week's letter addressed to the President of the European Council by Prime Minister Theresa May," Michel Barnier, Brexit chief negotiator for the European Commission, told MEPs during a Wednesday morning debate that preceded the vote for the resolution, which would set the tone for the coming negotiations.
Barnier stressed unity in the negotiations, saying it would be important for both the EU and the United Kingdom, as disarray would likely result in a painful lack of agreement.
"The stronger we are at 27, the stronger we will be in the negotiations," declared Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, while praising the European Parliament for its rapid action in drawing up a resolution in response to British PM May's letter triggering Article 50 on March 29.
"It is normal that your parliament will have a say," Juncker told MEPs, "but more importantly, you are the checks and the balances on the negotiations themselves."
For MEPs, Wednesday's resolution sets out a blueprint for what it means for a country leaving the European Union, with Britain being the first country to do so in 60 years since the signing of the Rome Treaty launched the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC).
"What does it mean to leave the European Union?", asked Manfred Weber (Germany), Chairman of the European People's Party, the largest political group in the parliament. "It means that a country that has decided to leave the European Union cannot have a better deal than a Member State of the European Union."
The German MEP also voiced against "cherry-picking," saying "On security, you cannot be part of Europol and benefit from the Schengen Information System. On research, you cannot take part in EU-funded programmes of cooperation between universities. On trade, you cannot benefit from the Single Market."
In the resolution, MEPs emphasized the need to protect citizens' rights by securing equal and fair treatment for EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU.
"We believe fundamentally that we have a duty to safeguard the acquired rights of the EU citizens living in UK and UK citizens living in the EU based on equity and reciprocity," declared Gianni Pittella (Italy), president of the Socialists and Democrats group.
Speaking of citizens involved, the Greens/EFA group co-president Ska Keller (Germany) said "They should be given peace of mind about their future, not treated as pawns to be traded."
Citizens' rights were highlighted in the resolution, which noted in particular the Irish citizens. The resolution called on all parties to remain committed to the Northern Ireland peace process and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
MEPs also stressed that until its official withdrawal, Britain remains a full member of the EU, with all the privileges and obligations implied by membership. In particular, this includes financial commitments which may extend beyond the British withdrawal.
"The UK must honour all outstanding financial commitments - when you change your apartment, you had better first pay the electricity bill for the old one," said Gianni Pitella.
Britain's obligations as an EU member also make it illegal for London to enter into trade talks with a third country before it leaves the EU, and to engage in bilateral negotiations with one or some EU member states.
The text of the resolution also warns against use of security cooperation as a bargaining tool for a future EU-UK economic relationship, reiterating that the four freedoms, namely free movement of goods, capital, services and people, are indivisible preconditions of access to the EU single market, and refusing any "cherry-picking" on economic arrangements.
The European Parliament also insisted that any future economic relationship can only be discussed in terms of transitional arrangements, and only after "substantial progress" has been made on the terms of Britain's withdrawal.
"Our message is clear: we first negotiate the divorce, then we talk about the future Treaty; we need to put an end to the uncertainty in which citizens concerned are living," declared Manfred Weber during morning debate.
MEPs also sought to establish their ongoing and close involvement in the negotiations, intending to build on the elements set out in the resolution as negotiations develop, for example by adopting further resolutions, including on specific matters or sector-specific issues.
The resolution's conditions will guide the imminent negotiations, as any final agreement will need to win the approval of the European Parliament prior to implementation.
Brexit negotiations cannot begin until the European Council has approved directives for the talks during its next summit scheduled on April 29. Observers expect that the negotiations will actually be launched in late May.
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