Brussels is again talking about a “No Deal”. For even in the fourth – and probably decisive – week of negotiations, talks on a free trade agreement are making little progress.
“There has been no significant progress this week,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said after the fourth round on Friday. He accused Prime Minister Johnson of backtracking on the common Political Declaration from last year.
Johnson did not want to comment in the first place. He is apparently counting on a personal meeting with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to cut the knot. But von der Leyen is being coy.
A Commission spokesman reacted evasively to the question of whether there would soon be negotiations at the top level. In principle, such talks had already been agreed last autumn, it was said.
However, he did not want to name a date – for example on the fringes of the next EU summit on 19 June.
There is tactical calculation behind this. The EU would like to extend the talks in order to ensure a smooth transition – without the “no deal” hammer.
For Johnson, however, an extension would be tantamount to dilution or even betrayal. He has promised the British the brexite and does not want to put them off until 2021 or later.
In addition, Johnson has a completely different idea of a “good deal” than Barnier or von der Leyen.
The British Tory leader is striving for an agreement along the lines of the CETA deal with Canada – without tariffs, quotas or other trade barriers. He also wants a free hand in fishing rights and how to deal with Ireland.
In contrast, the EU wants to keep Britain as close as possible to the internal market and its rules. The key word is “level playing field”, i.e. equal or almost equal standards in taxes, duties and in social and environmental policy.
The EU also demands fair access to British fishing grounds and the implementation of all agreements with Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“We are not given a choice”
“We’re not being given a real choice,” laments British chief negotiator David Frost. Brussels only offers everything (free trade to EU rules) or nothing (i.e. WTO tariffs). London, however, is seeking a compromise between these two extremes.
For this to be possible, however, Brussels must finally stop treating Britain as if it were still an EU member.
But this is exactly what Barnier and von der Leyen obviously find difficult. They do not want to let the British go and hope for close, partnership-based relations – not only in trade, but also in foreign policy.
But Johnson is not playing along with them either: He challenges von der Leyen – and at the same time negotiates a trade agreement with US President Trump. This, too, should be ready by the end of the year…
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) The original post (in German) is here