The week began on Monday in Brussels with a meeting between European Commission (EC) Vice President Maros Sefcovic and British Minister of State Michael Gove.
At the heart of their talks is the highly controversial bill, currently being considered in the British Parliament, which calls into question certain commitments that the Johnson Government has made in the agreement that marked the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (EU). on January 31.
Angered by the overthrow, which according to the British Government itself violates international law, Europeans have given London an ultimatum to withdraw the bill by the end of the month, threatening to sue it otherwise.
The text deals with certain customs and state aid provisions allocated to the British province of Northern Ireland, intended to avoid a re-imposition of a physical border with the Republic of Ireland, an essential guarantee for maintaining peace on the island of Ireland.
The negotiators then enter, starting Tuesday, a new round of negotiations on the future relationship, the ninth since March – and the last, for the time being, on the agenda.
Consistent sources say no progress is expected this week from negotiations in the Belgian capital.
But “the path to an agreement must be identified,” said a European diplomat. “If we do not move, the process will be very difficult,” he sounded the alarm.
And the specter of a “no deal,” which will further shake the economies already weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic, will haunt spirits again.
“To be honest, I’m not optimistic” about the chances of reaching an agreement, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told the free newspaper “I” on Monday, saying the British bill had “eroded trust” between the two partners. .
“It simply came to our notice then. The transition from full market integration to a “no del” will have devastating consequences for businesses, “said Markus Beyrer, CEO of the European Business Employers’ Union.
Trade talks, led by Europeans Michel Barnier and Britain’s David Frost, are set to end on Friday, as EU heads of state and government attend a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday.
They take place on a very tight schedule. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given negotiators until October 15 – the date of a European summit in Brussels – to reach an agreement. Europeans believe a trade agreement needs to be reached by the end of October.
The aim is to allow sufficient time for the text to be ratified for it to enter into force on 1 January 2021, when the transitional period ends, during which the United Kingdom will continue to apply European rules.
Negotiations are hitting a number of sensitive issues, including the eternal issue of EU safeguards in the fiscal, social and environmental fields and especially state aid, in order to avoid the emergence of a deregulated economy on the other side of the English Channel. make it unfair competition.
An agreement on fisheries to allow Europeans to fish in Britain’s fish-filled waters remains to be seen.
Finally, the “governance” of the future agreement, especially on how London and Brussels will resolve their future trade disputes – and the place of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – continues to raise issues.
The British bill has strongly encouraged EU member states, which intend to forge an agreement as strong as possible, to ensure they will not be surprised by another attempted breach.
“The intention is for the text to be well-defined legally,” said a European source, who added that “we are not sure that the British are prepared for this.”