European Union countries will on Wednesday begin mapping out for the first time possible future relations with Britain after the nation leaves the bloc, sources said ahead of a new round of Brexit talks this week.
The meeting of ambassadors from the remaining 27 EU states fulfils a commitment made by leaders to British Prime Minister Theresa May at a summit last month to start internal work on a transition period and eventual trade deal.
The EU leaders warned May however that they would not start actual discussions with Britain until at least December, given that there had been insufficient progress on divorce issues including Britain's exit bill.
One EU source said Tuesday the meeting would be a "brainstorming exercise" to gauge how the 27 envision the second leg of negotiations with Britain.
"We'll see during the meeting how far member states want to go or how much they want to block discussions on transition and the future relationship," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another European source told AFP the discussion would remain "stratospheric" and look at the big picture with the broad goal of imagining a new negotiation mandate for the EU 27.
The 27 officials meet in Brussels a day before a sixth round of formal talks in Brussels between the EU negotiating team led by Michel Barnier and the British team led by David Davis.
Brussels insists there must be "sufficient progress" in these talks on Britain's financial settlement, the rights of European citizens living in Britain after Brexit, and the Irish border issue, before moving onto trade.
The talks have so far advanced only slowly since their launch in June, with a particular sticking point being the bill, which Britain says should be around 20 billion euros ($23 billion), but which the EU puts at nearer 60 billion.
Britain is set to leave the bloc in March 2019.