Final sprint. After much back and forth, the European Union and Great Britain want to quickly agree on an agreement on their future relationship. If their negotiators succeed in doing this by mid-November, it could be ratified just in time by December 31, 2020. At that point the British will leave the common market and the customs union with the EU.
The negotiating positions are apparently still far apart. But just the fact that after a brief British reaction of defiance to the unsatisfactory result of the EU summit of 14-15 Intensive negotiations since the end of last week in October suggest that the chance of a “deal” has risen to at least 50 percent.
In a sense, both sides have made preparations for a compromise. France has warned its fishermen that they will be allowed to fish less in British waters in the future. Thanks to his uncompromising rhetoric, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was probably able to score points with some of the die-hard Brexiteers in his own camp immediately after the EU summit. That could make it easier for him to explain to his party later that he really wrested the best possible deal from the EU.
What is London doing with its independence?
The contours of a possible agreement have been emerging since the middle of the year:
- The EU accepts that the fishing quotas for its fishermen around the British Isles will be gradually reduced in the coming years. The EU will financially compensate its fishermen for this. Even if the overall economic importance of this sector is small – it concerns rights worth well under 1 billion euros a year – fishing in Great Britain and France is of great symbolic and political importance.
- Great Britain and the EU sign a free trade agreement with an extensive waiver of tariffs and import quotas. In the goods trade and other areas, however, the agreement hardly goes beyond the agreement between the EU and Canada. For many services, the British are losing preferential access to the EU internal market.
- Britain accepts that due to the much larger volume of mutual trade, it must be subject to stricter rules than Canada in order to ensure fair competition. This also includes subsidy controls that London actually wanted to shake off when it left the common market.
A fundamental problem will not even begin to be solved in the coming weeks. The British side still has no precise idea of how they would like to use their future independence. Since London does not know which rules and standards should apply in Great Britain instead of those of the EU and how it would like to shape its subsidy policy, the treaty on future relations can hardly determine the extent to which the EU considers future British practices compatible with a free one Can accept access to the common market.
That is why the EU side is pressing for two points to be regulated as clearly as possible in advance. First, the treaty should set out how the EU can restrict UK access to the common market through tariffs or other instruments if the UK breaches the established standards of fair competition, for example through excessive subsidies to some sectors. Second, there needs to be a robust mechanism to resolve disputes. The European Court of Justice must play a decisive role, at least in the sense that only it can ultimately interpret EU law in a binding manner.