Brussels (AFP) – The EU and Britain on Monday launched intense five weeks of negotiations on an agreement to define their post-Brexit relations, with London eager to get things done quickly.
The new round of negotiations in Brussels was the first in person since the coronavirus shutdown combined with entrenched positions on both sides to impede progress.
We hope that the intensification of the discussions will make it possible to obtain results after the previous sessions, especially the conversations with videolinks, have achieved little.
But moods have increased in the past few days and Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on Saturday that Britain was ready to accept the consequences of no deal if common ground could not be found.
The meetings will alternate weekly between Brussels and London throughout July and the end of August, with London expecting an agreement as soon as possible.
The EU "remains calm and united in its principles and values," said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in a tweet.
"We will make the most of our intensified conversations in the coming weeks and months," he said.
The teams found on Sunday that Barnier's counterpart David Frost will be promoted to become Johnson's national security consultant.
Some commentators immediately suggested that this could break the focus on the British side, but a UK spokesman insisted that Frost's new title does not mean he will be distracted from ongoing discussions.
"David will remain the main negotiator for EU negotiations until the agreement is reached or until the negotiations are over," the official said.
"This will remain your first priority. As we have made clear, we do not want these negotiations to continue in the fall."
– UK ready to accept no deal –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – whose government takes over the EU presidency next week – has also refined its public stance, questioning whether London really wants a deal.
"Of course, it would be in the interest of Britain and all European Union member states to obtain an orderly withdrawal," Merkel told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
"But that presupposes that both sides want it," he added.
Britain left the EU on 30 January and a post-Brexit transition period, in which it still benefits from de facto EU membership, will end on 31 December.
Without a new deal, the two sides would see ties reduced to minimum standards set by the World Trade Organization with high tariffs and serious business disruptions.
At the very least, London wants to agree to the bones of a trade deal this summer – at least politically, if not legally – to provide clarity to companies well before the end of the year.
The EU is less pressured by time and believes that the necessary ratification by the European Parliament and others would require an agreement by the end of October.
– & # 39; Unrealistic & # 39; –
The negotiations on Monday are more dynamic than the first rounds, which involved hundreds of negotiators.
Barnier and Frost now lead smaller teams armed with political authority to break down obstacles.
In a tweet on Friday, Frost said he was coming to Brussels in "good faith".
But he warned: "This needs to be a real negotiation and some of the EU's unrealistic positions will have to change if we want to move forward."
The discussions started with a meeting between the two men and will continue throughout the week with short sessions on the most problematic topics.
These include the guarantees of fair competition required by the EU in fiscal, social or environmental matters, in order to prevent the emergence of a low-regulation economy at the door of Europe.
Other downsides are the role of the EU Court of Justice, access to British waters for European fishermen, and the form of the agreement.
This could be a very broad agreement, covering all areas of the relationship, as Europeans want, or a simple commercial agreement with small sectoral secondary agreements, as sought by London.