The Brief – The triumph of the political will

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL]

With wearisome predictability, the talks on a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal will come down to one final last week of negotiations, with a summit in Brussels at the end of it, on 19 November. Both sides say they are nearly there. A deal “is there to be done”, says UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Patience, determination and flexibility are, in rhetorical terms, in over-supply from the negotiators – Michel Barnier, David Frost, Michael Gove and company.

Still, there can be no escaping the fact that the deal on the table is going to be the thinnest and most bargain-basement of free trade deals.

The UK has abandoned hope of a deal on financial services – its biggest single economic sector. The UK’s future access to the EU’s energy market is one of the few areas where there is an ambitious agreement that will essentially maintain the status quo.

However, EU officials know that energy market access is considerably more valuable to the UK than the fish and are tying the issues together.

Lest we forget, fishing accounts for less than 0.1% of the UK’s economic output.

While it is unclear exactly how a compromise on fisheries will be cobbled together – though if the political will is there a fudge should not be difficult – the more fundamental question is whether Boris Johnson really wants a deal?

The fact that the deadline has been repeatedly extended, allowing a September deadline to slip until late November, suggests that he does.

Johnson would face little backlash from his Conservative party for accepting a deal close to what is already on the table. Most UK businesses are simply not ready for the disruption of a ‘no deal’ scenario. Nor is the machinery of government, whatever they might protest.

Joe Biden’s victory in last week’s US presidential election is another factor, albeit small, that points in the direction of an agreement. The imminent change of occupant in the White House (barring a major surprise) throws the US-UK trade talks into a temporary state of limbo.

Though there is no reason to believe that a trade pact offered by a Biden presidency would be less generous than one proffered by Donald Trump, the chances of it being resolved by next July, as hoped for by UK International Trade minister Liz Truss, appear remote.

But even if a deal is signed, sealed and sent to MEPs after next week’s summit, it’s still far from certain that it could be ratified by the 27 national parliaments before 31 December. That, however, could be resolved with a short technical extension of the post-Brexit period.

The European Parliament would probably kick up a bit of a fuss but would be leant on by the European Commission and Council. Besides, it is not as if there are going to be any major surprises in the final text.

It is all eerily reminiscent of the ‘will he, won’t he’ drama when the question was whether Johnson would finalise the Withdrawal Agreement.

A meeting between Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was all it took to break the log-jam. Next week, it will probably come down to something similar, followed by signatures on dotted lines.

The Roundup

The European Commission has unveiled the first building blocks of a broader health package aimed at increasing the range of preparedness tools to respond to future cross-border health threats.

The European Commission has presented its first LGBTIQ Equality Strategy for the next five years, pledging to be “at the forefront of efforts to better protect” the community’s rights by aiming to tackle discrimination, ensuring safety, building inclusive societies and be a global leader in the fight for the minority group’s rights.

The sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in Greece’s second-biggest city of Thessaloniki has raised eyebrows in the government, which is now trying to come up with quick solutions to avoid a tragedy similar to the one in Italy’s Bergamo during the first wave.

A group of 165 companies and industry bodies have called on EU antitrust enforcers to take a tougher line against Google, saying the U.S. tech giant unfairly favours its own services on its web searches.

The European Commission will soon unveil its ‘ReFuelEU’ initiative, aimed at ratcheting up the amount of sustainable fuel used in aviation. The scheme is eagerly awaited as cheaper access to greener fuels could help reduce air travel’s carbon emissions.

Look out for…

  • EU home affairs ministers discuss terrorism threat, migration

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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