Germany has pressured France to drop its demands on fishing, one of the biggest obstacles to a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, as Boris Johnson warned he was “disappointed” with the progress of the negotiations.
EU leaders will meet in Brussels for a summit on Thursday as talks with the UK over their future relationship enter a critical phase: the PM waits for the meeting to end before deciding whether it is worth continuing to work for an agreement.
While EU officials expect Johnson to agree to hold at least two more weeks of negotiations, they recognize there is still a long way to go. Resolving the two sides’ disagreements over fisheries and business subsidies will be key to reaching a deal.
But the process is now becoming as much of a negotiation between the 27 national governments of the EU – especially between the German and French powers – as it is between the EU and Britain, as the bloc determines which type okay he can live. with, said a European diplomat.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s demands to maintain his country’s current access to British fishing waters are now the biggest obstacle to a deal, to the growing frustration of his European allies.
In a thinly veiled attack on the French position, a German government official said on Wednesday that once interested European coastal countries realized that the alternative to no deal is no access to UK fishing grounds, there could be increased flexibility.
Over the past week, Johnson has stepped up talks with EU leaders, speaking to both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron. On Wednesday evening, Johnson held a call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
” The Prime Minister Noted the desirability of a deal, but expressed disappointment that further progress had not been made in the past two weeks, ”a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement. “The Prime Minister said he looked forward to hearing the results of the European Council and would reflect before defining the UK’s next steps.”
Johnson is likely to be told by his chief negotiator, David Frost, that a deal is possible if officials can start intensive talks in the days ahead, according to a person familiar with the matter. Both sides now see early November as the likely final deadline.
“Still a lot of work ahead of us,” von der Leyen said in a tweet after the call. “The EU is working on a deal, but not at any cost.”
Compromise of fishing?
Even countries that disagree with France’s tough stance don’t want to compromise on the fish until the UK takes a similar leap on the state aid issue. Britain has yet to do so, although EU officials have said they are encouraged by informal talks that suggest the UK is gradually preparing to make an acceptable offer.
The EU has given in to his demand that the UK stick to EU state aid rules at all times, even if they change in the future. But he wants the UK’s subsidy scheme to be monitored by an independent regulator who has the power to make legally binding decisions very quickly. Either party could retaliate if the rules were broken, possibly in separate areas of the trade agreement.
It is almost certain that an agreement in this area will be necessary before France, which catches around 25% of its fish in British waters, considers giving up part of that fishery. The UK has proposed a different formula for calculating fishing quotas that would benefit its own industry and also wants to subject the access of EU vessels to annual negotiations.
Macron walks a tightrope. While a trade deal with the UK would be economically advantageous for France – and the rest of the EU – selling its fishing industry could play into the hands of its political rivals.
As France holds its own, there are small signs that a compromise could emerge. The Paris government no longer necessarily believes that the country’s share in the catch should stay exactly at its current level, a European diplomat said.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Wednesday, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz hinted that he expected the two sides to strike a deal – even though talks may go down to the wire.
“My experience,” he says, “is that sometimes, at the last moment, you will find a solution.
– With the help of Joe Mayes, Viktoria Dendrinou, Nikos Chrysoloras, Jonathan Stearns, Kati Pohjanpalo, Raymond Colitt, Matthew Miller and Birgit Jennen