BRUSSELS (dpa-AFX) – After three fruitless rounds, EU negotiator Michel Barnier is now calling for tangible progress in the negotiations for a trade and partnership agreement with Great Britain. “A decisive week is ahead of us,” Barnier tweeted on Tuesday at the start of the fourth round of negotiations. EU politicians appealed to London to move. Otherwise there would be a hard break at the end of the year. The British government, on the other hand, sees the EU as a duty. British fishermen are also pushing Brussels to give in.
Four months after the Brexit, neither side sees any real progress in the talks about future relationships. The EU offers a comprehensive trade agreement, but demands wide commitments from the UK. This week-long round of videoconferencing is also particularly important because an agreement on the topic of fishing rights should be reached by the end of June. A decision should also be made as to whether the negotiation period should be extended. So far, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been strictly against it.
“We are close to the moment of truth,” said SPD MEP Bernd Lange in Brussels. If important issues such as conditions of competition, workers’ rights, consumer protection, security and fisheries are not reached, “we have to prepare for an unregulated, hard Brexit by January 1, 2021”.
CSU MEP Markus Ferber also urged the British side to compromise. “Otherwise, it will be tight with an agreement by the year,” said Ferber. Without London’s clear commitment to fair competition rules, there could be no agreement. From both sides, Ferber called for more attention to be paid to the cooperation in financial services. “It cannot be the case that the details of the fisheries agreements are brooded over for days, but financial stability does not matter,” said Ferber.
How much EU fishermen will be allowed to fish in British waters in the future has become highly political. Johnson is keen to get control over the country’s rich fishing grounds with Brexit. For its part, the EU makes an agreement on this issue a condition for a trade agreement.
This criticizes the British fishing industry sharply and demands that questions relating to fishing not be linked to negotiations for a free trade agreement. That would be the worst solution, industry representatives said. Ships from the EU fish six times more in British waters than their own ships.
Great Britain left the EU at the end of January. There is still a transition phase until the end of the year, in which practically everything remains the same. If no agreement is reached within this period, tariffs and other trade restrictions would have to be introduced. An extension of the transition period by up to two years would be possible, but would have to be decided in June.
The FDP’s spokesman for European politics in the Bundestag, Michael Georg Link, asked Johnson to get involved. “It takes more time for a good deal than before December,” said Link. “A moderate extension of the negotiations would be the best way out of the impending no-deal scenario.”
The two sides had already agreed on key points for the future partnership in a political declaration in October. Barnier accuses Britain of moving away from it. The British side denies this and, in turn, complains that the EU wants to bind the country closer to itself in the long term and submit to EU rules.
“It is clear that the EU needs to further develop its position in order to reach an agreement,” said a British government spokesman on the fourth round of negotiations. “We will not agree to any EU demands to give up our rights as an independent state.”
Behind this is the dispute over the EU requirement that Great Britain will continue to guarantee the same high environmental and social standards as the EU. The British government says it does not want standards to be lowered, but it also cannot accept requirements from Brussels./vsr/DP/men