From reports in the British press, it would be possible to imagine that the EU is being obstructive in its negotiations with the UK. The UK is not permitted to “cherry pick”, but cherry picking – agreement point by point – is the root and essence of every trade agreement. The Irish Taoseach has also been reported as saying, provocatively, that the UK cannot be permitted to destroy the EU – how is that supposed to work? – and that the UK cannot expect to be treated as an equal partner in negotiations. Did anyone say that to Canada?
The real substance of the negotiation is rather different. This is from a speech given at the end of April by Michel Barnier.
Even with the UK’s current red lines, our intention is to reach an ambitious and wide-ranging free trade agreement with:
- Zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions on goods;
- Customs cooperation to facilitate goods crossing the border;
- Rules to limit technical barriers to trade and protect food safety [sanitary and phytosanitary
- A framework for voluntary regulatory cooperation to encourage convergence of rules;
- An open market for services, where companies from the other party have the right of establishment and market access to provide services under host state rules – I repeat, under host state rules;
- Access to public procurement markets, investments and protection of intellectual property rights.
This comprehensive offer already reflects our high level of ambition for an FTA with the UK. But we believe that our future economic relationship should go even further. Let me mention four points.
- First, in our future partnership we would like ambitious provisions on the movement of people, including related areas such as coordination of social security and the recognition of professional qualifications.
- Secondly, in addition to trade, we offer a socio-economic cooperation. For instance, we propose an air transport agreement, combined with aviation safety and security agreements. The UK could also participate in certain EU programmes, for instance in the field of research and innovation, where participation of third countries is allowed. That said, it would be on a different financial and legal base than today.
- Thirdly, since data flows will be important for several components of the future relationship, it should include rules on data.As already made clear by the European Council, for personal data, it will be for the EU to take adequacy decisions, where the level of protection in the UK is equivalent to that of the EU.
- Finally, given the UK’s geographic proximity and economic ties with the EU, the future relationship must be based on a strong level playing field. It is in our economic interest – in your businesses’ interest – not to be undercut by unfair competition. So there will be no ambitious partnership without common ground on competition and state aid, social and environmental standards, and guarantees against tax dumping. This will require adequate enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms.
It is a ‘comprehensive offer’, and a good one. The press has suggested that Theresa May favours an option with frictionless trade for goods, special terms for services and protection of UK interests in areas such as data sharing, security and air traffic. And that, more or less, is what the EU is offering.
There are two main criticisms I’d make of it. The first is the requirement for common ground on economic management, competition and state aid; that would require the UK to follow the EU’s worst economic policies. The second is that the EU has other commitments that it is duty bound to recognise. It was the EU, not the UK, that promised British citizens that their fundamental rights would be protected. Europe has to do more about this, regardless of the British position.