With less than 30 days of the break with the United Kingdom, the new negotiations started on Sunday to find a post-Brexit agreement are slipping. Confession of failure on Monday, after a long telephone interview, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that “the conditions were not met” for an agreement between London and Brussels.
The British Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission asked their negotiators to prepare a “physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days”, according to a joint statement. A spokesperson for Downing Street said Boris Johnson was planning to make the trip. Three major points remain at the heart of the tensions: fishing, competition and governance.
Where are the negotiations at?
Discussions should normally come to an end. But after eight months of deadlock, the British and Europeans, who began two days of additional discussions on Sunday, still had nothing to propose on Monday. And the timetable is more than tight: they must conclude an agreement before December 31, the end of the transitional period. “The European Union was worried about not reaching an agreement to preserve the economic and financial interests of companies. […] If we have to keep the schedule, it is now or never, because let us not forget that the European institutions must ratify this agreement, ”warns Patrick Martin-Génier, professor at Sciences Po and specialist in European issues. Brexit should in any case be invited to the European summit on December 10-11 in Brussels.
Has there been any progress?
Yes, the British government said it was ready on Monday to abandon the controversial clauses of a bill calling into question the treaty governing the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. This is a real concession to Brussels in the middle of the difficult negotiations on the post-Brexit relationship.
On the other hand, on the subjects which block since March, no visible evolution. According to a European diplomat, a “landing zone” seemed to be emerging on Sunday evening on the issue of fishing. But the European negotiator, Michel Barnier, has “not really” seen progress in recent hours in the discussion, according to Nathalie Loiseau, centrist MEP. According to her, “there are still deep differences, both on the conditions for fair competition, fishing and the governance of the agreement.”
Why is there no evolution on these subjects?
“Fishing is the point which symbolizes the sovereignty of the British”, insists Elvire Fabry, senior researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. “The two camps left with very maximalist proposals: on the British side, we will not give anything, and on the European Union side, we want to keep everything”, she analyzes.
Among the supporters of a very firm position, France. And for good reason, these waters are very full of fish and represent a real windfall for French fishermen. “But the United Kingdom wishes to control access to its waters, when France wishes to be able to continue fishing as much in British territorial waters as before”, summarizes Catherine Mathieu, economist in the Analysis and Forecasting department at OFCE (Observatory Français des Conjonctures Economiques), specialist in the United Kingdom and European issues.
The second stumbling block is that the European Union does not want unfair competition to take root in the single market. Especially if the United Kingdom decides, when it leaves, to lower its taxation on companies, or to change its environmental standards. On this point, recalls Catherine Mathieu, concerns are exaggerated, as Boris Johnson wants to be at the forefront on these questions. “On this issue, the Prime Minister is rather in the direction of more measures. Also on wages, the Conservative government has raised the minimum wage, almost to the level of that in France, ”she illustrates.
The issue of public aid to businesses, however, is central, according to Elvire Fabry. “Negotiators want guarantees and a dispute settlement mechanism so as not to allow distortions of competition to be created in the single market, if the UK government decides to deregulate or if it wants to strengthen public financial support for businesses, such as Boris Johnson hinted at in recent statements, ”says the researcher.
What options are there now?
One of the avenues would be to sign a transitional agreement at the end of the year and to negotiate during the first quarter of 2021. “This would save time, and hijack the legal aspect”, confides an expert speaking anonymously. But on Monday, London closed the door to such an option. “We are ready to negotiate as long as there is time available, if we believe that an agreement remains possible,” Boris Johnson spokesman told reporters. Asked about the possibility of resuming talks next year, on the basis of a provisional agreement, he replied: “I can rule it out”.
In the absence of an agreement, trade between London and the EU will take place from January 1 under the sole rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). “This means a return to borders and customs duties, which are only around 3 to 4% on average, but can reach 50% for certain agricultural products. This could be catastrophic for certain sectors, including sheep farmers, ”notes Catherine Mathieu. It remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson wants to take this path, reassuring for some of his voters, but more than risky economically in times of pandemic. “Today, the question is no longer the economic cost of no-deal, but to what extent a no-deal can retard growth,” underlines Elvire Fabry.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr