Britain has repeatedly stated that, following Brexit and as a newly independent coastal state, it wants to control its waters and fish.
There are fears in France of a major surrender by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in what would be the EU’s first major concession in negotiations over their new relationship after the UK finally unleashed the union.
Brexit negotiations ended on Friday and tense talks remain on fishing rights.
European fishing vessels fish six times more in British waters than British vessels in EU waters, meaning the UK has leverage in the negotiations.
France has warned that it will do everything it can to guarantee the rights of French fishermen
Brexit negotiations marred by disagreements over fisheries
On Friday, EU and Britain negotiators admitted they had made very little progress in their latest round of negotiations on a free trade agreement on Brexit, just weeks before an end-of-year deadline to reach an agreement was extended.
Both sides have presented plans to intensify negotiations and have called for renewed political pressure when their leaders assess the situation later in June.
Britain left the EU in January. Their relationship is now governed by a transitional arrangement that keeps the previous rules in place while they negotiate new terms. So far, it has not gone well.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a press conference: “This week, there has been no significant progress. We can’t go on like this forever.
France wants access to British waters after Brexit
He said the EU and Britain remained far apart on issues of fair competition guarantees and governance of their new relationship, as well as fishing rights.
But Britain and the EU will continue negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal despite the latest round of negotiations that failed to break the deadlock.
The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said the process would have to be “intensified and accelerated” if there was to be a chance of a deal.
The talks aimed to lay the groundwork for a high-level summit later this month to take stock of progress.
However, both parties suggested that the cumbersome system of remote meetings – agreed to because of the coronavirus outbreak – had reached its limits and that officials should resume face-to-face meetings if they were to move forward.
Britain has said it wants control of its waters after Brexit
Fishing is particularly politically sensitive for France, whose fishing industry relies heavily on British waters
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Barnier said he hoped arrangements could be in place by the end of the month.
He said: “I think it will work better, it will be more efficient and easier.”
British officials said they remained confident that the high-level meeting would continue, although a date has not yet been agreed.
The summit – by video – will involve Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and possibly The President of the European Parliament, David-Maria Sassoli.
British officials had previously said they saw June as an “inflection point” in the talks, but a senior negotiating team official acknowledged that the coronavirus outbreak meant there would be some delay.
However, he insisted that the talks could not be allowed to drag on until the fall without clear evidence that an agreement was possible.
EU countries most dependent on UK fishing waters
The official said: “We are not in place for a long negotiation in the coming months until the fall when no one knows what will happen. October is too late for us to address this issue.
“We need to work intensively now and until July to see if we can find the high-level compromises that unlock an agreement in all of our important negotiating parameters.”
As things stand, Britain will leave the EU single market when the current Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year with nothing to replace it unless a deal is reached.
Mr Barnier said that “the door is always open” for the UK to seek an extension of the transition period to allow more time for further negotiations – something Mr Johnson has repeatedly ruled out.
However, the EU negotiator again accused the British side of reversing the commitments made in the political declaration signed last year by the Prime Minister – including on maintaining access to fishing in the UK.
He said: “We cannot and will not accept this reversal of the political statement.”
British officials acknowledged that they had a “slightly different interpretation” of the statement, which they said was aimed at setting the “parameters” of the negotiations.