The Brief – Don’t forget about the fish

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The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

A golden rule in politics is that the most belligerent rhetoric presages a climbdown.

As lawmakers in Westminster passed a bill that would break the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, accompanied with the usual bellicose statements about ‘taking back control’, in Brussels, the UK team led by David Frost offered a series of concessions in a bid to secure a trade deal that will override the controversial Internal Market Bill.

Plus ça change…

The new UK offer includes compromises on state aid and fisheries, including a three-year transition period for European fishing fleets to allow them to prepare for a new regime that, the UK hopes, will mean less access to UK waters than under the Common Fisheries Policy.

That fisheries would be a major stumbling block on an EU-UK trade agreement was always inevitable, even if it makes little economic sense.

Unlike on state aid – the other big point of disagreement – where the Johnson government does appear minded to be far more interventionist than its Conservative and Labour predecessors, ministers are not expecting a boom in catches for UK fishermen.

The UK fishing industry is worth around £1.4 billion per year, equivalent to 0.1% of the UK economy, and it is unlikely to get much bigger, even if the ‘zonal attachment’ scheme demanded by the UK would reduce the catch available to EU boats.

So what’s the fuss then? As any British reporter in Brussels knows, writing a story about UK fishing brings with it a fury unmatched by any other EU policy.

The Common Fisheries Policy was “rushed through with obscene haste before the UK had acquired veto rights, it resembled war reparations imposed on a militarily defeated nation,” one irate correspondent told this reporter a few months ago, and it was far from being the only such missive.

The fishing sector, a key argument of Brexiteers in the 2016 referendum campaign, now has even more political clout than then. Many of the Conservative gains in last December’s election win were in English fishing towns, typically among the poorer communities in the country. Selling them out would mean losing those votes.

This week’s offer is probably about as far as the Johnson government can go while keeping the fishing lobby on board.

In contrast, Frost’s team appears to have accepted that the UK’s car manufacturing sector will take a hit. In a letter to car industry leaders, Frost conceded that since Michel Barnier’s European Commission team will not accept that car parts from Japan and Turkey used in the UK be treated as British, some automotive exports may see higher tariffs.

The financial services industry – total economic value around £120 billion per year – has been largely ignored in the negotiations.

Whatever the rhetoric, the chances of a trade deal are probably still better than 50-50. Both sides need it. But while Johnson appears prepared to let other industries suffer, he can’t afford to forget about the fish.

The Roundup

The European Commission said that the EU-wide assessment of the rule of law will complete its toolbox with a “preventive” mechanism to guard against backsliding in countries across the bloc.

The European Commission Vice president for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, voiced clear support for the ongoing anti-corruption protests in Bulgaria, saying that the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov should take them “very seriously”.

US President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden faced off in their first debate in Cleveland, marked by personal insults and repeated interruptions, as they battled over Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and the integrity of November’s election.

Nearly 16 months after its federal elections, Belgian political leaders broke the deadlock on forming a new government, with the King expected to name caretaker finance minister Alexander De Croo as the new prime minister.

Platform giants will be prohibited from using the data they collect online unless they make this data available for use by smaller platforms, according to a draft of blacklisted practices, seen by EURACTIV, as part of the European Commission’s forthcoming Digital Services Act.

The US administration has welcomed reports that Germany is set to take a tougher stance against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, also noting that they would encourage the country to partner-up with US’s so-called 5G ‘clean network’ program.

The European Commission launched a new industry alliance aimed at strengthening the EU’s “strategic autonomy” on raw materials like rare earths, which are considered key for the bloc’s green and digital transitions.

Polish MEP Sylwia Spurek announced she will transfer from the Socialists to the Greens group in the European Parliament, becoming the first Polish member of the 69-strong group.

The concept of soil carbon sequestration, a cornerstone of regenerative farming, is regaining strength as a key measure in both climate mitigation and adaptation.

Football is Germany’s national sport and enjoys loyal fans, but some of them see an urgent need for reform. Now, armed with a declaration and many signatures, a supporters group has concrete demands, among them stricter requirements for climate protection.

Look out for…

  • European Council meeting in Brussels, which has been postponed from last week as President Michel was in quarantine. on Belarus, Turkey, China and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. Single Market, industrial policy and digital transformation are also on the agenda.
  • Informal meeting of EU environment ministers
  • European Parliament’s PECH, CULT, CONT, AFET, ENVI & CONT, JURI Committees

Views are the author’s

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