Sabine Weyand (born 1964) is a senior EU official, of German nationality. She has played a prominent role in trade negotiations, as an EU co-negotiator for the TTIP and CETA agreements, and in 2016 was selected to be EU deputy chief negotiator for Brexit, acting as second to EU negotiator Michel Barnier.
In the wake of this appointment the Politico news website listed her as one of the ten most influential women in Brussels, while her interaction with her British opposite number Oliver Robbins has been described as "the real engine room" of the Brexit process. Her personal style has been characterised as being "very direct, very quick, no bullshit", with a rare ability to combine a feeling both for technical detail and broader political interplay, set off by a sharp sense of humour and a taste for sarcasm and irony.
Education and Career
Weyand was a student at the University of Freiburg from 1983, studying Political Science, Economics, English and Linguistics, including a year of study at the University of Cambridge from 1986 to 1987. In 1991 she received her diploma in Advanced European Studies from the College of Europe, where she graduated top of a class of ninety. This was followed by a doctorate in political science from the University of Tübingen, which she received in 1995. The topic of her dissertation was the common transport policy of the EU.
She has worked for the European Commission since 1994. Her first position was in the Directorate-General for Industry, where she worked with the automotive industry outside Europe. From 1997 to 1999 she was in the Foreign Relations Department, where she also dealt with economic issues and prepared for the G7 / G8 Summits. From 1999, she was on the staff of EU Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy. She then headed the staff of the Commissioner for Development Assistance and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, from 2004 to 2007. This was followed by a consultant role on the staff of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, from 2007 to 2009, where amongst other things she was involved in international climate and energy negotiations.
From 2009 to 2012 she was the representative of the European Commission to the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (Coreper I). From 2012, she was then director of the EU Secretariat-General responsible for policy coordination. She also dealt with EU international negotiations such as TTIP with the US, CETA with Canada, EU neighbours and the WTO.
In March 2016, she became Deputy Director-General of the Directorate-General for Trade, responsible for Units E (Neighbourhoods, USA and Canada), F (WTO, Legal Affairs and Trade), G (Trade Strategy and Analysis, Market Access) and H (Trade Defence Instruments). It was from this role that she was appointed Deputy Chief Negotiator for the Brexit process, with effect from 1 October 2016.
- On the difficulty of Theresa May pushing the Brexit legislation through the Westminster Parliament, she said “There’s a very high risk of a crash out not by design, but by accident. Perhaps by the design of article 50, but not by policymakers. We need to have a majority that doesn’t just get agreement over hurdle of a meaningful vote by a narrow majority but we need to have a stable majority to ensure the ratification. That’s quite a big challenge. There’s no negotiation between the UK and EU – that’s finished. There’s no point beating about the bush – the agreement was defeated with a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. That’s a crushing defeat by any standards. It’s quite a challenge to see how you can construct out of the diversity of opposition a positive majority for a deal."
- On the consequences of a No-deal Brexit, she said: “We think we can handle it. I’m less sure about UK side. For us it’s about EU-UK trade relationship and disruption to supply chains. For the UK a no deal would mean that a part of the regulatory and supervisory structure of economy breaks away – a much bigger challenge.”
- On Theresa May’s handling of the negotiations, she contrasted the EU's transparency with the secretive approach of Downing Street: “You cannot lead a negotiation like that in secrecy. We’ve seen on UK side the fact this was handled in a very small circle and that there was no information about all the things that were tried in the negotiations is now a big handicap.”
- On Conservative politicians in Westminster calling for a time limit or unilateral exit clause in the Irish backstop, she said: "It feels like Groundhog Day. None of this is new. This has been extensively discussed at the negotiating table amongst the EU27. EU27 were unanimous a time limit to the backstop defeats the purpose of the backstop.”
- On a technological solution for avoiding a hard border in Ireland, Weyand said: “We looked at every border on this earth, every border EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls. The negotiators have not been able to explain them to us and that’s not their fault; it’s because they don’t exist.”
- Weyand said the debate in the UK over the pros and cons of a Norway- or Canada-style model, seemed to be “uninhibited by any knowledge of what is actually in the withdrawal agreement. Our impression of the discussion is much more about the future of the country and the future of the UK-EU relationship than about the content of the withdrawal agreement.”
- On the idea of extending article 50, Weyand said “the EU would need information on the purpose of an extension. The idea of going into serial extensions really isn’t very popular in the EU27.”
- Sabine Weyand Diese Deutsche handelt mit den Briten den Brexit aus ksta.de. Retrieved 15 November 2018 (German)
- Ryan Heath, The Women who Shape Brussels: #8 Sabine Weyand, Politico, 7 October 2016
- Florian Eder, Politico Power List 2018: Women to Watch: Sabine Weyand, Politico, 23 April 2018
- Ian Wishart, Meet the Real Force Behind the Brexit Talks, Bloomberg News, 4 May 2018
- Jennifer Rankin, Sabine Weyand: the EU Brexit negotiator with a British sense of humour, The Guardian, 1 February 2019
- Sabine Weyand curriculum vitae, European Commission, March 2016. (via Internet Archive)
- European Commission sets up Task Force led by Michel Barnier as Chief Negotiator for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom, European Commission press release, 14 September 2016
- Jennifer Rankin and Daniel Boffey, Risk of no-deal Brexit ‘very high’, says key EU negotiator, The Guardian, 28 January 2019
- Rare speech by EU's Deputy Brexit negotiator on UK talks, posted to YouTube by Channel 4 News, 29 January 2019. Accessed 1 February 2019