EU leaders meet in Brussels as German leader Angela Merkel rumoured to tell French President, Emmanual Macron to back down on fisheries
EU leaders are meeting today in Brussels in an effort to come to an agreement on reaching an agreement with the UK in future relationship negotiations.
The main issues to be discussed are the same issues that have dogged talks since they started between EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart, Lord Frost.
Fisheries and the ‘level-playing field’, i.e business subsidies have been holding up a future agreement between the UK and the EU with no side willing to compromise on the mandates they each possess.
It has been rumoured that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel will tell the French President, Emmanual Macron to back down on the country’s stance on the issue of fisheries.
Bloomberg reports that French President Emmanuel Macron’s demands to maintain his country’s current access British fishing waters are now the biggest roadblock to a deal, to the increasing frustration of his European allies. France takes around 25% of its annual catch in UK waters and want long-term guarantees for future access to these waters before it agrees to any new deal.
It is believed that the German’s want coastal member states to relax their mandate on fisheries in order to push through a deal rather than making any grand compromise on business subsidies. Germany is looking for a ‘level-playing field’ in order to be competitive with the British economy but at this stage it is rumoured that they have relented on the demand that the UK permanently stick to the bloc’s state aid rules.
Some reports suggest that even countries that disagree with France’s hard-line stance are unwilling to compromise on fish before the UK makes a similar leap on the issue of state aid. Britain hasn’t yet, although EU officials said they are encouraged by informal discussions that suggest the UK is gradually preparing to make an acceptable offer.
Yesterday (Wednesday), a German government official said that once interested European coastal nations realise that the alternative to no deal is no access to British fishing grounds, there could be increased flexibility. It is thought that the remark was aimed at their French neighbours but Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Belgium, along with a host of Baltic States had access to the UK waters under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and stand to lose as much as their French counterparts.
Early this morning French MEP, Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, French Marine Minister, Annick Giradin and Secretary of State for European Affairs. Clement Beaune met with French fishers and their representatives to discuss a number of issues including the impacts of COVID-19 and the future of fisheries. The French fishers have been given guarantees about maintaining their access to UK waters and the French Government would lose face if they backed down now and came away with a lesser deal.
Talking up their opportunities earlier in the week, Clement Beaune said: “The British want their waters back and this, they believe, gives them leverage.
“But they forget that for everything else they are negotiating on, they have a lot more to ask than to offer.”
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to make a strong intervention on the issue at tonight’s dinner but it is expected that he will be asked to reconsider his stance on fisheries. He is facing an election in less than two years, and he will not want to face the wrath of French fishermen who may have lost access to valuable fishing stocks in UK waters.
Ireland and fellow coastal states have been arguing against leaving fisheries as the last stand alone issue.
That seems now to have been reflected in the expressions lately of the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has warned that EU fishing communities could not just be cast aside in order to get a trade deal.
Some propose that the EU could link fisheries with other areas of the future relationship which are also outstanding, such as financial services and energy.
Fisheries is becoming an extremely difficult political issue for both sides as their mandates have them locked into a standoff in the negotiations.