Last week concludes the first week of free trade agreement negotiations between the EU and UK.
As the voice representing the EU, Michel Barnier remained optimistic in his press conference on 5 March, but confirmed that major sticking points like fisheries are still to be addressed.
Speaking at the close of the negotiation round, Michel Barnier reminded his audience that the two sides must rebuild everything on new legal bases. This work, he assured, has been started in a serious and constructive way.
Barnier recommitted himself and his team to a full transparency policy. Carrying on as he did in the previous set of negotiations, he will continue to ‘inform, consult and listen’ to EU Member States not only during Council meetings but also in visits to the capitals. Feedback will also be sought from national parliaments, professional representatives, trade unions, civil society, the European Parliament’s coordination group and other stakeholders. This should help to deliver a united EU-27 position, as was achieved in the 2016-2019 negotiation period.
While the negotiations might have gotten off to a friendly start, Barnier very clearly drew the line at the Irish Protocol. This, he said, is not up for negotiation. It is about implementing a specific agreement in a ‘pragmatic and operational’ way. As small businesses would be well familiar with, Barnier agrees that it is urgent for companies in Northern Ireland to receive clarity from the UK authorities on this implementation.
One perhaps unforeseen result of these talks is the increasing line from the EU, mentioned in Barnier’s final remarks as well, that just as nobody is contesting the UK’s independence, the UK should respect the EU’s independence. In perhaps an act of tough love, it seems the EU is growing increasingly frustrated that the UK’s entitlement to sovereignty stops at its own borders. Although trying to remain cordial, the EU is showing signs of toughening up its language.