The negotiations between London and Brussels are entering the final phase. According to the EU, the coming days are crucial. After all, there is not much time left to avert a hard break.
By Ralph Sina, ARD-Studio Brussels
“The work continues, even on Sunday,” said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the way to the meeting with his British negotiating partner Lord David Frost. Before leaving for London on the Eurostar, Barnier had informed the EU ambassador in Brussels about the status of the negotiations and made no secret of the still serious differences of opinion.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News that there was little time left to resolve these differences on the issues of fisheries, fair competition and supervision. The British Foreign Minister underlined that the negotiations are likely to be the last week.
The goal is still a deal. The British government sees progress in negotiations on the issue of fair competition, i.e. compliance with all standards and rules of the EU internal market. But for the EU it is crucial that the British side not only pledges itself on paper to comply with EU social, environmental and consumer protection standards. She also urges London to recognize the EU’s subsidy rules in order to rule out all forms of dumping.
Highly competitive fishing
“We need robust control mechanisms,” emphasizes EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. To ensure that competition with the future third country Great Britain on the EU single market remains fair in the long term. What kind of competition supervision the British accept and which arbitral tribunal decides in the event of a dispute are among the particularly difficult negotiation questions.
The symbolic subject of fishing continues to be fiercely contested. This is a matter of principle, stressed the British Foreign Minister Raab to “Sky News”. With the end of the transition phase on December 31, Great Britain will be an independent coastal state from next year and must be able to control its waters.
No one in the EU questioned this principle of British fishing sovereignty in British territorial waters, stressed Commissioner von der Leyen. The EU Commission is well aware of the international law of the sea, which allows the United Kingdom to dispose of all fishing activities within the 200 miles of its exclusive economic zone.
Previous catch quotas not tenable
However, the EU continues to insist on clearly defined fishing quotas for EU trawlers. After all, continental European fishing boats have been sailing in British waters for centuries, von der Leyen emphasizes.
It is clear to all EU countries bordering the North Sea that the previous catch quotas cannot be maintained. Even French President Emmanuel Macron has signaled to his fishermen that they will have to put up with lower fishing quotas in order to get a deal with the British. The alternative is an absolute ban on fishing in British waters if a trade agreement is not concluded by the end of the year, stressed Macron.
French fishermen catch around 80 percent of the fish in the English Channel, while their British colleagues catch just nine percent. EU negotiator Michel Barnier is absolutely clear that such quotas cannot be maintained. The eight affected EU countries get around 40 percent of their herring, mackerel, plaice and sole from the British territorial waters of the North Sea and the English Channel.
British Foreign Minister Dominique Raab emphasizes the importance of British territorial waters for EU fishermen. In total there are 140 species of fish. According to the European Fisheries Alliance, up to 6,000 fishing jobs could be lost in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Most of it in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.
EU chief negotiator Barnier is therefore ready to reduce the quotas by around 15 percent – and to renegotiate the quotas every ten years. The British are demanding significantly greater self-restraint by EU fishermen and renegotiating quotas after three years at the latest.
From the point of view of EU Commission President von der Leyen, the next few days of negotiations will be decisive. A treaty not only has to be translated into the 24 official languages of the EU, but also ratified by the parliaments in Brussels and London by December 31st. Nobody in the EU has an interest in a possible deal provisionally coming into force on January 1st and only having it ratified afterwards.
After all: Great Britain signed a fishing agreement weeks ago with its EU economic partner Norway. And this weekend the government in London agreed with France to better control the English Channel in order to prevent migrants from crossing the deadly danger. That strengthens hopes in Brussels for a future EU treaty with Great Britain.