by N. Peter Kramer
In a videoconference call on Saturday (3 October) UK MP Boris Johnson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed ‘on the importance of finding an agreement, if at all possible, as a strong basis for a strategic EU-UK relationship in the future’. But they also noted that ‘significant gaps remained; notably, but not only, in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance’. This week the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier travelled to London for talks with UK chief negotiator David Frost.
Before Barnier went to London, he was called for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to get new instructions following the EU Council meeting at the end of last week. After that meeting Dutch PM Mark Rutte said that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the Brexit negotiations which were the last and most important subject of the agenda of the Council. He added that ‘we need to stick together and therefore there is a clear rationale for a deal’. Did a move take place in the Summit? With no deal in sight that will be a huge economic problem for some member-states, and not the least important ones.
Angela Merkel’s words after the Council meeting were a clear flag. Merkel said it was clear the UK wants ‘more freedoms than just continuing to follow the rules of the single market’. Adding: ‘we have to respect that. We have to find the appropriate response’. Suddenly she recognised that Britain’s voters in 2016, and again in 2019, chose independence from EU bureaucracy. The question is, has the German Chancellor told Barnier to give in?
During the whole process Barnier has never shown that he knows what negotiating means: he is a master of dictating to the UK what the EU wants - basta! A perfect example of this stubborn behaviour is the future operation of the Channel Tunnel. The EU wants to control both sides of the Tunnel, so that on the UK side too EU law applies. Thus the European Court of Justice would be empowered to issue rules binding the UK; completely ignoring the will of Britain’s electorate to rid itself of Brussels’ arrogance.
Did common sense finally break through on the EU side?