Posts Tagged :

    BW5_EU27-UK

    Commission firm on environmental non-regression, but shy on alignment

    150 150 ioana bere

    (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.

    European Commission, slides on the level playing field seminar

    EU institutions in full speed towards negotiations with the UK

    150 150 ioana bere

    Preparations for the future EU-UK partnership negotiation have accelerated in the EU institutions.

    The EU’s UK task force presents this month a series of preparatory briefings to the Council. These will most probably reflect the negotiations directives the Commission will come out with in February. Usual procedure requires the Commission to present an impact assessment and to organise a public consultation (see European Commission note). In the past, the Trade Advisory Group was created and used by DG Trade to consult with civil society and industry representatives. Nevertheless, the group stopped working last year and is pending a Commission’s decision on its future mandate; but most likely the Trade Advisory Group will not tackle the future EU-UK negotiation as DG Trade is no longer in the lead. Michel Barnier, the Brexit chief negotiator, will therefore have to decide on how to involve stakeholders in the discussion. Taking into account the tight timetable, it might well be possible that stakeholders will not be consulted via a public consultation at all. In previous trade negotiations, the Ombudsman had a played a prominent role concerning transparency and went as far as requesting the Council to publish documents and details of the negotiation.

    Member States representatives will participate this month to nine Article 50 working parties, discussing a wide range of subjects related to the future EU-UK relationship. The level playing field will be covered on January 14. The purpose of a level playing field is to avoid unfair competition, for example through lower standards (e.g. environmental, labour standards). A draft negotiation position is expected in the first week of February, which will be adopted by the Council later in the month. Diplomatic sources say it will be mainly based on the Political Declaration yet remain very high level. Concerning the level playing field, EU’s demands are expected to match the provisions in the Irish Protocol. This is seen as a baseline below which the EU will not go. The structure of the future agreement – whether it will be a (non)-mixed agreement – is also a thorny issue which Commission will clarify during the briefing session on January 21.

    On January 21, the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament will hold a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement (followed by a vote in Plenary on January 29), and then continue with a discussion on the future relationship with the UK. This will pave the way to a resolution aiming at influencing the negotiation mandate, expected to be voted on by the Plenary in the week of 10 February.

    Negotiation rounds with the UK should begin early March. The European Council summit on June 18-19 is seen as a pivotal point, indicating if there is any chance to agree on a basic agreement on trade, fishing rights and security by the end of 2020.

    European Commission, note on “Negotiating EU trade agreements”
    Trade Advisory Group page
    Timetable – UK task force preparatory briefings to Council
    The Guardian article (December 2019)
    European Parliament, International Trade Committee agenda
    Ombudsman on trade negotiation transparency

    EU-UK partnership ambition to depend on future level playing field, says von der Leyen

    150 150 ioana bere

    (8 January 2019) In a speech delivered at the London School of Economics, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen laid down some leading principles for the future partnership negotiation between the EU and UK. The EU stands ready to move towards a partnership of “unprecedented scope”, but limits might intervene due to the tight negotiation time frame and eventual divergences pursued by the UK.

    Von der Leyen clearly stated the more divergences the UK will seek for, the more distant the future partnership will get. The access to EU’s single market can be weakened without an agreement on a level playing field in sectors like environment and labour.

    With a tight negotiation period of almost 11 months, the partnership cannot cover every single aspect. Priorities will clearly be set, the integrity of EU’s single market and customs union being one of them. The other EU red lines will have to be established in the negotiation mandate. 

    Transcription of President von der Leyen speech

    Rapid pace towards EU-UK trade deal negotiations

    150 150 ioana bere

    The European Commission is preparing a negotiation mandate as it has been asked by the European Council at its last meeting. A draft mandate is likely to be presented at the next Council working party meeting on trade questions on 14th January 2020. The European Parliament should also be immediately informed about the mandate. Concerning the text of the mandate, the European Council expects that “the future relationship will have to (…) ensure a level playing field.” Michel Barnier, the head of the Commission’s UK task force, has also made this clear on multiple occasions.

    Throughout January 2020 the Council will be busy getting ready to negotiate the future EU-UK trade agreement. The working party on Article 50 will go through a series of intensive seminar sessions on a range of trade-related topics, the level playing field being one of them.

    Meeting calendar of the ad hoc working party on Article 50
    Meeting calendar of the working party on trade questions
    European Council conclusions, Article 50 meeting

    Commission advances work for obtaining a negotiation mandate

    150 150 ioana bere

    (28 November 2019) The Commission plans to hold technical working groups with Member States in January, prior to the UK’s exit on 31 January and before trade talks can begin, in order to advance the preparation for obtaining its negotiation mandate. The European Commission has only 11 months to finalise a trade deal with the UK before the transition period ends and the backstop set out in the Brexit deal kicks in. Despite the fact trade negotiations typically last for several years, Boris Johnson has committed not to extend the transition period beyond 2020 in the Conservative manifesto for the upcoming election (12th December).

    Michel Barnier: regulatory level playing field – sine qua non for the future EU – UK trade agreement

    150 150 ioana bere

    It is clear now the UK will be divided post-Brexit between US and EU approaches, with the UK’s choice being a decisive factor in determining what type of trade agreement it will reach with both parties.

    Michel Barnier, former head of the Brexit negotiations task force and now in charge of the UK task force for the new European Commission, has clearly indicated on several occasions that if UK rolls back social and environmental standards, this will result in proportional consequences over UK access to the EU market. A future EU – UK trade deal could even be blocked in a scenario where the UK embarks on a considerable deregulatory path. Barnier also added that striking a trade agreement in only 11 months is not realistic.

    The Guardian article (October 2019)

    New Brexit deal and future relationship: UK insists on regulatory divergence, the EU on a level playing field

    150 150 ioana bere

    (17 October 19) The new deal achieved by EU and UK negotiators brings significant changes to the earlier deal agreed under the Prime Minister May: it allows the UK to diverge from EU environmental and health protection standards.

    The Withdrawal Agreement no longer contains an environmental non-regression clause for the UK and keeps only Northern Ireland aligned with many EU standards in order to maintain an open border in Ireland.
    The Political Declaration still includes text on a level playing field, but the details remain to be worked out during trade negotiations. The Declaration says that both parties pledge to uphold “the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period” and then maintain high environment standards “at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards”. A reference to the Paris Climate Agreement has been inserted as well. The text continues to mention the possibility of co-operation with EU chemicals agency ECHA, however the text following this in the original political declaration, a commitment “to consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas” has been deleted.

    The chemical industry has cautiously welcomed the deal, noting there is still possibility of co-operation between the UK authorities and Union’s agencies such as the European Chemicals Agency.

    Revised Political Declaration and Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland
    CEFIC’s reaction

    A new EU watchdog for the trade and sustainable development chapters in trade agreements

    150 150 ioana bere

    More details over the future Chief Enforcement Officer were provided by Commissioner-designate Hogan, after its creation was announced by Ursula von der Leyen in her agenda for Europe. The Chief Enforcement Officer will hold the position of Deputy Director General in DG Trade, will be politically accountable and be given enough resources to have “teeth”. This role will be entirely focused on implementation issues in trade agreements and will be expected to involve engagement with a large range of stakeholders, including those outside the trade circle. Taking into account Members of European Parliament’s numerous complaints over the implementation of trade and sustainable development chapters in trade agreements, it seems highly probable this will become a focus point for the enforcement officer. The position is expected to be created as soon as possible starting from 2020. 

    Phil Hogan’s hearing in the European Parliament

    Level playing field under UK attack, while EU holds firm

    150 150 ioana bere

    The Northern Ireland backstop has become the main target of UK’s new Prime Minister Johnson. EU leaders however have so far held firm. The backstop set out in the draft Withdrawal Agreement is considered by the EU to be unnegotiable in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland, in line with the Good Friday Agreement. In addition, the backstop ensures a level playing field based on EU standards, particularly important for EU labour market and environmental protection rules. The former UK government accepted this approach and even went as far as to promise that new EU labour rules would be written into UK law. David Frost, former CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, now Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, is conversely in favour for labour market deregulation and had opposed such an approach.

    The Independent on David Frost

    Are French customs prepared for Brexit?

    150 150 ioana bere

    The French Customs Union have been protesting since March at the Eurostar Paris Nord terminal and in other places in the country. They want to alert the Government to the lack of resources in carrying out current customs checks, let alone the additional ones that will be required once the UK becomes a third country post-Brexit.

    European Commissioner for Customs, Pierre Moscovici, insists on ensuring full application of EU rules after Brexit in order to protect EU consumers and the integrity of the internal market.

    Communication, Syndicat national des agents des douanes (SNAD)
    Press statement, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici

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