From our correspondent
It is a page that is turned. The “Task-force” for relations with the United Kingdom, led by the chief Brexit negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, ceased its work at the beginning of March, as an agreement “Trade and cooperation” between the European Union (EU) and the other side of the Channel was concluded at the end of 2020.
A new chapter is therefore opening: that of “post-Brexit” – without Michel Barnier, but with his share of uncertainties. How to ensure that the terms of the divorce are respected? Will regulatory alignment survive the test of time? Who will negotiate the issues that are still open? “We are entering a phase of adaptation to an unprecedented situation, and there are no shortage of challenges”, summarizes Éric Maurice, director of the Brussels office of the Robert-Schuman Foundation.
The 2019 Withdrawal Agreement, which organizes, among other things, the modalities of border controls on the island of Ireland, recently faltered at the end of January when the European Commission wanted to set up a mechanism to monitor exports of Covid vaccines. -19. This re-established border controls between the two Irlandes. Frictions then continued, as the Northern Irish government ordered Friday February 26 to stop the construction of post-Brexit checkpoints, although provided for in the agreement. A few days earlier, the Unionist DUP party launched a legal attack against the Northern Irish protocol which it said would threaten the unity of the Kingdom.
Should we see a taste of “Hiccups” which could arise between London and Brussels in this new phase? It is not impossible, as the threads which connect the hundreds of pages of agreement between the two capitals are, for some at least, very fragile. Every day has its share of underestimated consequences: sudden drop in exports (- 30% from Germany), disaster sectors in Scotland (whiskey, salmon) two months before the elections in this province dominated by the separatists, showdown with the City …
The British government seems determined to take advantage of the gray areas that remain in the 1,300 pages of trade agreement (signed in December) which covers trade in goods and services as well as transport, energy and Data protection. “There is also fishing, a sector which will require additional discussions with the United Kingdom”, underlines Éric Maurice, who reminds that the quotas will have to be reviewed each year. From financial services to controls of phytosanitary products, many other fields remain fallow and will have to be cleared by Brussels and London.
As regards the alignment of British standards with European standards, there too, there are risks: “These provisions are rather vague, we can expect the British to try to nibble on the ground by trying to deviate as much as possible from European standards”, continues Eric Maurice. According to Financial Times, London is already looking for ways to circumvent the working time directive and its 48 hours per week.
Several procedures and conciliation bodies exist in the event of disputes over the application of the new provisions. The vice-president of the European Commission, the Slovak Maros Sefcovic will be the guardian of the Brexit agreement negotiated by a Michel Barnier already turned towards the French presidential election of 2022. “Brussels is losing this figure which carried all the negotiation and which embodied it, says Eric Maurice. But the EU needs it less today because it is entering an era of managing a new relationship. “