European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reiterated the phrase common in Brussels that there is a “narrow” path to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain before the end of the year.
A path to an agreement
“I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not,” the leader of the EU executive told the European Parliament.
“But I can tell you there is a path to an agreement now. The path may be narrow but it is there,” von der Leyen added.
There had been progress on guaranteeing standards for fair competition, such as rules on state aid or regarding minimum labour and environmental standards.
Challenges remained on how to ensure fair competition in the future.
Issues of governance had also been largely resolved, von der Leyen said.
However, fisheries remained a bone of contention. “In all honesty: It sometimes feels like we will not be able to resolve this question,” von der Leyen said, adding that the next few days would be decisive.
Brexit trade talks are complicating EU agriculture ministers meeting
The ongoing Brexit trade talks are also complicating current negotiations at an EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels, during which they are to thrash out their annual fishing quotas.
“Today will probably be a long day,” German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said ahead of the second day of the Meeting.
Kloeckner, whose country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, said that it was important to strike a balance between environmental protection and socio-economic issues.
“Overfishing doesn’t help anybody,” she said, while adding that it was important that European fishing crews were still allowed to fish from January, which would be prohibited if an agreement on quotas could not be reached.
Just two weeks for Britain
There are just two weeks until Britain leaves a post-Brexit transition period that keeps the country in the EU single market after formally leaving the bloc at the end of January.
If no trade agreement is clinched by the end of the year, tariffs and customs checks would be introduced, wreaking potential economic havoc, and EU fleets would lose the right to fish in British waters, and vice versa.
Speaking during his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the British parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told lawmakers: “There’s every opportunity, every hope that I have, that our friends and partners across the Channel will see sense and do a deal.”
“All that that takes is for them to understand that the UK has a natural right like every other country to want to be able to control its own laws and its own fishing grounds,” he said.
Negotiations made progress
On the topic of state aid and guaranteeing a level playing field for firms, von der Leyen said negotiations made progress on “common principles guarantees of domestic enforcement and the possibility to autonomously remedy the situation where needed.”
“We have agreed a strong mechanism of non-regression [on standards],” von der Leyen said. “This is to ensure that our common high labour, social and environmental standards will not be undercut.”
A possible trade deal would still have to be ratified by the European Parliament, member states and Britain. Von der Leyen did not say how this would be possible before the end of the year.