Six months from the deadline, while post-Brexit negotiations are at an impasse, EU leaders met Boris Johnson virtually on Monday afternoon to give them new life. Because the failure of these negotiations would lead straight to a “no deal” with potentially devastating effects. “The EU is ready to intensify the discussions, we are available 24/7, insists the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter. Let’s inject new momentum into the negotiations. “
The meeting “has always been viewed as an opportunity to move negotiations forward,” said a British official. “It is now necessary that (this question) be resolved in order to give visibility to the business community” in the United Kingdom as in the EU “as soon as possible,” he added.
At the end of the meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered it possible for London and Brussels to be fixed in July on their ability to reach an agreement on their post-Brexit relationship, ensuring that their positions were ” not that far apart. ” The head of the Conservative government was questioned on television about a possible deadline for determining whether negotiations were going to succeed or not. “What we said today is that the faster the better, there is no reason not to get there in July,” he said. “I don’t want to see it continue until fall or winter,” he added.
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It is the first time since leaving the UK on January 31 that Boris Johnson has been personally involved in the discussions. The EU was represented by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and the Presidents of the Council Charles Michel and of the Parliament David Sassoli. European negotiator Michel Barnier also participated. After four rounds of discussions since March, the situation is simple to summarize: the British and Europeans have camped on irreconcilable positions, preventing any progress. “We are nowhere,” sums up a senior European official.
Formal refusal to extend the transition period
As for the possible extension of the transition period which ends on December 31, 2020 by a year or even two, the United Kingdom closed the subject on Friday by “formally” notifying the EU of its refusal to extend it. , as he had been saying over and over for months. Therefore, barring a dramatic development, this “high-level conference” – its official name – should above all take note of the differences. And reiterate the will displayed on both sides of the Channel to avoid a catastrophic “no deal” for economies already hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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London and Brussels have already agreed, before the meeting, to speed up the talks. The calendar is full for July, with meetings every week, sometimes in Brussels, sometimes in London, most in small committees, to move forward on the most conflicting files. Among them, guarantees of fair competition in fiscal, social or environmental matters (the “level playing field”), demanded by the EU, which fears that an unregulated economy will emerge at its doorstep. But also the settlement of disputes between the two parties or the explosive issue of fishing.
“It takes two to dance tango”
So many issues to be resolved before October 31, the deadline set by Michel Barnier to allow time for the Member States and the United Kingdom to ratify a possible agreement which would enter into force on 1er January 2021. Without compromise, the only rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), with their high customs duties and customs controls, would apply to trade relations between the former partners. A prospect that panics the European employers’ organization Business Europe, “extremely concerned” about the state of negotiations.
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But for Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, member of the European Parliament’s coordination group on Brexit, “Europeans make a mistake in analysis” when they think that a compromise will impose itself in the face of economic risk, which is not “decisive” for pro-Brexit. “I think we are wrong about love story. To have an agreement, you have to wish roughly the same thing, “added the boss of the environmental group this weekend on RTBF. “It takes two to dance tango,” echoed him Monday a British Secretary of State for Commerce, Greg Hands, on German public radio, recalling that London only asked for a classic commercial relationship like the one that links Canada and the EU.
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