If Spain wants to block a future trade deal with the U.K. over Gibraltar, if Belgium wants to stop a deal over fish or if France wants to veto over financial regulation, they have a legal way to do so.
The concession to EU countries is buried in the legal section of the draft negotiating directives that the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier presented on Monday.
This document refers to Article 217 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union as a legal basis for an EU-U.K. agreement because of the "scope of the envisaged partnership and the ambitious and long-term relationship that it seeks to establish."
Under EU law, holding the Brexit talks on the basis of Article 217 means that member countries will need to reach a unanimous decision in Council, giving each of the EU27 countries a chance to weigh in on the talks and forcing Barnier to keep every country's interests in mind during the upcoming negotiations.
According to one EU diplomat, the choice for this legal basis was suggested by EU countries during the Brexit briefings in January, where they expressed concern about the legal architecture of the future deal. Another agreed that Article 217 granted individual veto powers to countries.
EU officials had originally considered using Article 207. This is normally used for negotiating directives for free-trade agreements. Under that scenario, EU member countries would only need a qualified majority to green-light the deal in Council.