Brussels / London (dpa) – Chills to the end: With a final tour de force, the European Union and Britain tried to negotiate a trade pact for the period from January 1 at the beginning of the week.
In Brussels, EU negotiator Michel Barnier, diplomats and MPs judged the prospects for an agreement gloomy on Monday. But neither side was willing to take responsibility for failure.
According to information from participants in a briefing for MEPs, Barnier said the negotiations could continue until Wednesday – ie right before the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. The British government also stated that time was short, but as long as there was time, they were ready to negotiate further. EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to discuss in a telephone conversation on Monday afternoon (5 p.m.) how to proceed.
Less than four weeks before the end of the Brexit transition phase, the negotiators are under enormous time pressure. Without a trade agreement, there is a risk of tariffs and other trade barriers between the two parties around the turn of the year, which have so far been closely intertwined in the common internal market, delivering goods worth hundreds of billions of euros a year back and forth. If the negotiations fail, many British goods in the EU will become more expensive. Delays at the border can cause bottlenecks and disrupt supply chains. Tens of thousands of jobs would be at risk. The UK is concerned about gasoline and certain food shortages.
The negotiators have been arguing for months over the same issues: fishing, fair competition, and rules for penalizing violations of the agreement.
Barnier told EU ambassadors and Brexit specialists in the European Parliament on Monday morning that hardly any progress has been made on these issues in the most recent round of negotiations since Sunday. Barnier looked gloomy, depressed and pessimistic, an EU diplomat said. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also expressed little confidence in a television interview.
But neither side apparently wants to be the first to give up – and take responsibility for the woes of a no-deal Brexit. “The outcome is still open,” said another EU diplomat. “The EU is poised to make the final effort to find a fair, sustainable and balanced deal for the citizens of the EU and the UK. It is now up to the UK to choose between such a positive result and a no-deal. “
The German government affirmed that there must be a willingness on both sides to compromise – not just from London. But there are also red lines on both sides. Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas (SPD) emphasized that it was clear within the EU that an agreement would not be reached at any price. “But we certainly want to reach an agreement.”
Barnier and his British colleague David Frost have been checking so-called landing zones inch by inch for months, so now there’s hardly a surprise solution that no one has thought of. It must be decisive whether both parties give each other a political shock. And that again depends on whether a weak, hasty or distorted contract will have more disadvantages in the long term than a no deal.
The EU has offered the UK free trade in goods without tariffs or quantity restrictions. In return, however, it requires the same environmental or social standards and subsidy rules. This is what lies behind the point of fair competition terms – “level playing field” in negotiation jargon.
The problem: Britain would like to have as few EU directives as possible – “Sovereignty” and “control” over its own rules are the main goal of Brexit from London’s point of view. On the other hand, the EU does not want its market to be opened up to companies that have to meet lower standards and can therefore produce cheaper. Protecting the EU’s internal market is the top priority for all 27 states, Brussels said.
The second controversial topic of fisheries is especially important for coastal states, especially France. The negotiators are negotiating the quantities that EU fishermen can catch in UK waters. We are talking about quotas and a clause to review the regulation after a certain period – a so-called review clause. Both sides denied an alleged breakthrough in the fishing industry.
The third point, “Treaty enforcement”, is also important to the EU because of a maneuver by the Johnson administration that was outraged in Brussels: British legal clauses that enact the EU exit agreement already in force at the beginning of the year. wax would partially nullify. These are passages that must prevent a hard border between the British Northern Ireland and the EU state of Ireland.
The Johnson administration fears that the treaty special rules for Northern Ireland could separate the country from the UK’s internal market and become a gateway for EU state aid guidelines.
As a safety net in case of a no deal, Johnson therefore introduced a so-called internal market law in parliament, which is intended to give the government extensive powers to reverse the agreement with the EU. The government admitted that this would be in violation of international law. This also caused outrage in Britain. The controversial passages were removed by the Lords in the House of Lords during the legislative process. On Monday evening she wanted to redesign the government with her majority in the House of Commons – an insult to the EU.