(14 January 2020) The European Commission’s UK Task Force presented to the EU27 its ideas on how to achieve a level playing field in the future relationship with the UK. An agreement on the level playing field is considered to be an entry point for the trade negotiations.
According to the slides published by the taskforce, the economic partnership must encompass “robust” level playing field commitments, meaning the EU and UK will have to agree on a common set of standards which will lay the basis for a trustful future cooperation. Two types of areas will be covered: sectoral and horizontal, the last one including a wide range of policies (from competition to social and environment).
On non-regression, the deal must provide minimum commitments on environmental standards, such as EU’s 2030 targets (air and water quality, climate targets etc.) that are in place by the end of the transition period i.e. end of 2020. The level playing field might also include new technical developments on certain legislations that are part of the common standards at the end of the transition period; though this would not cover new primary legislation.
Cross-border pollution is put forward as an important element for the future relationship, and could be used to justify broadening and strengthening the required commitments under a level playing field.
A soft form of dynamic alignment is foreseen through the activity of the Joint Committee, which can be empowered to modify commitments over time as to lay down higher standards or to include additional areas in the level playing field. Only for state aid a more robust dynamic alignment is considered by the Commission. In general, dynamic alignment is considered to be a no go for the UK government, but several Member States including Denmark and France have asked for it. The issue is likely to become more pressing considering that under the Withdrawal Agreement, a part of the UK – Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a lot of EU’s environmental acquis.
Finally, lowering higher environmental and labour standards for competitive trade reasons is not accepted. Such a ratchet up provision makes sense for the EU in view of the European Green Deal which has a deep transformative approach, but could run counter the UK government’s interests to keep its hands free.
Civil society participation and dialogue is mentioned as an instrument for sustainable development. This would need additional details and maybe a stronger form of involvement for the stakeholders, who can push for more ambition in the level playing field future commitments.