BRUSSELS (AFP) - The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday there had been better progress in recent talks on a post-Brexit trade deal, but more work is needed.
Given the slow progress, talks were set to move to London next week with a COVID-19 infection among negotiators also throwing the negotiations into disarray.
“After difficult weeks with very, very slow progress now we’ve seen in the last days better progress, more movement on important files. This is good,” she said.
“We still have, of course, the three main difficult issues: governance, fisheries and the level playing field. But, within the frame of the level playing field for example, progress has been made on the question of state aid.”EU diplomats charged with tracking the progress in talks saw no swift end in sight in the post-Brexit negotiations that began eight months ago - unless British premier Boris Johnson decides to compromise.
There is “growing concern that the negotiations are not progressing fast enough to guarantee ratification of the deal” by the end of year, an EU diplomat said, after member state envoys were updated on the talks.
The EU diplomat feared the gap between the two sides is “only slowly shrinking”.
“Nevertheless, there is hope that the negotiations can be concluded quickly if and when the necessary political decisions are taken in London,” the diplomat added.
According to another senior EU diplomat, France, the Netherlands and Belgium used the envoy meeting to press the EU executive to urgently update contingency plans in case of a no-deal.
Those countries are just across the English Channel and, along with Ireland, would be on the front lines of any ensuing chaos if the sides fail to agree a new trade arrangement in time.
“This is not a political position on the negotiations, but a question of responsibility towards the sectors concerned, especially transport,” the diplomat added.
Without an agreement, tariffs would be levied on the huge volumes of trade passing between the UK and the European continent, through the Channel tunnel and by ship, starting on January 1.
Business groups expect not only massive traffic at the borders for suppliers, but also billions in additional costs and lost revenue.