BRUSSELS, 1 Feb. –
The United Kingdom's departure from the European Union marks the beginning of a new countdown to negotiate in just eleven months the foundations of the future relationship, before the transition period expires on December 31 and British and European face again to the “precipice” if by then they have not reached an agreement.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom will have lost its voice and vote in common decision-making because it is no longer a Member State, but will continue to be subject to European standards and to the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (TUE) at least Until the end of the year.
In return, neither citizens nor companies will notice just immediate changes because the United Kingdom will continue to have access to the single market and the customs union for the duration of the transition, so they can move freely and without controls as they progressively adapt to the new situation.
The British absence began to be noticed in Brussels months ago, when London decided not to present a British candidate to hold a portfolio in the new College of Commissioners and stopped sending a representative to the monthly meetings of European ministers.
Now, their prime minister will also not be able to participate in the summits of leaders, their 73 MEPs have had to leave their seats in the Eurochamber – although they will have one more week to empty their offices – and the three British judges in the TEU have left their put with Brexit.
“We want the best possible alliance with the United Kingdom, but it is clear that it will always be different. Belonging to the European Union counts, the Union is strength,” the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a speech on Friday shared with the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.
In a joint appearance at the only act in Brussels to mark the date of the divorce – avoiding all solemnity in the first goodbye in the history of the EU to one of its member states – Von der Leyen, Sassoli and Michel opted for a “new dawn” of unity and leadership for the EU, while reaching out to London for an association as ambitious as it was committed.
“Our experience has shown us that the strength lies not in splendid isolation but in our extraordinary Union,” said Von der Leyen, noting that the future will not only be marked by the post Brexit negotiations, but also by the European ambition to be at the head of the fight against climate change and digital transformation.
Brussels will present this Monday, February 3, its negotiation proposal based on common interests and the red lines marked by the capitals, with the aim that the Twenty-seven profile the document in the following weeks and approve it on February 25 at a meeting of ordinary ministers.
The British Government will also present in the coming days the keys to its negotiating position, although the 'premier' Boris Johnson has already said that he aspires to close a free trade agreement before the end of the year because he refuses to contemplate any extension option to postpone the transition.
Thus, the negotiations cannot begin formally until March 1 and will do so with a dozen sectoral tables that will be convened every three weeks or so, according to community sources.
It is a very complex process that in the most optimistic calculations – and improbable – should lead to an agreement in October so that it can be processed in time to enter into force when the transition expires in December.
The European objective is an agreement that addresses the economic and commercial relationship, but also cooperation on security and defense matters and ensures the governance of the pact. Brussels has already said that a trade agreement is possible without quotas or tariffs but only if there are guarantees that unfair practices will also be reduced to zero.
Europeans fear that the United Kingdom will take advantage of this break to get away from European standards in social, fiscal and environmental matters and start unfair competition or become a tax haven at the doors of the EU. That is why the EU messages affect the guarantees that will require the British side that they will respect the principle of equal conditions.
Among the keys that the EU wants to solve as soon as possible is access to British waters for the Community fleet, something that London resists but Brussels wants to link to trade in fishery products, and financial services.
“The deadlines are very tight. The agreement has to be concluded in December 2020 and that leaves very little time. But if we are not able to do so we will be back on the edge of the precipice,” Von der Leyen warned in December in a debate in the European Parliament plenary session.
The head of the Community Executive said then that it is unrealistic to think that the agreement will be concluded in time, so the transition must be extended – and ask for this postponement before July – or assume that the parties must choose what is the most urgent and focus your efforts on agreeing only those chapters before December.