The European Union and the United Kingdom on Thursday concluded a historic agreement on their future trade relations, which will allow them to avoid the devastating shock of a “no deal” for their economies at the end of the year. The deal comes on Christmas Eve, after grueling negotiations.
It is a “good, balanced” and “fair” deal for each party, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “We can finally put Brexit behind us and look to the future,” she added.
With this trade treaty, the EU offers its former member state unprecedented access without customs duties or quotas to its huge market of 450 million consumers.
But this openness will be accompanied by strict conditions: companies across the Channel will have to respect a certain number of evolving rules in terms of environment, labor law and taxation to avoid any dumping. There are also guarantees for State aid.
A mechanism will allow both parties to quickly activate countermeasures, such as tariffs, in the event of discrepancies on these standards.
The agreement provides for a transition period of five and a half years until June 2026, at the end of which European fishermen will gradually give up 25% of their catches, which amount to 650 million euros each year. .
No timetable has been set for this adaptation period. Access to British waters will then be renegotiated annually, depriving them of visibility.
Christmas present to the British
Boris Johnson pledged his country would remain “culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geopolitically attached to Europe”.
“Tonight, for New Years Eve, I have a little gift for those looking for something to read in the torpor of Christmas after breakfast,” the head of the Tory government later said in a published video message. on Twitter. “Here it is: heartening news, here is an agreement, an agreement to bring certainty to businesses and travelers and to all investors in our country from January 1, an agreement with our friends and partners in the European Union.”
“I believe it will be the basis for a happy, successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU in the years to come,” he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “confident” that it was “a good” deal, when French President Emmanuel Macron said “European unity and firmness” had “paid off “in the talks.
It took two and a half years to negotiate the withdrawal treaty sealing the British departure, concluded at the end of 2019, which provided legal certainty to expatriates on both sides of the Channel and guarantees for the maintenance of peace on the island of Ireland.
The text will still have to be validated by the member states, a process which should take several days.
But in theory there is enough time left for it to enter into provisional application on January 1, when the United Kingdom, which officially left the EU on January 31, will have definitively abandoned the single market. It will then be validated a posteriori by the European Parliament at the beginning of 2021. For their part, the British deputies are convened for December 30 in order to debate it.
The conclusion of a text of 2,000 pages in barely ten months is also a feat for an agreement of this scope, the conclusion of which usually takes years.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, whose country would have been at the forefront if it failed, hailed Thursday’s deal: “It protects the entire island’s economy, with no hard borders” cutting it in half , he argued.
Brits displayed a willingly tinged relief of bitterness, like Harry Vincent, a student interviewed by AFP in London: “The compromises we made make me wonder if it was worth it” to leave the ‘EU, he laments.
The concern of fishermen
If the agreement was hailed by EU leaders and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it is raising fears among European fishermen who believe they are “the big losers” of the compromise, reached just a week before the final divorce of the January 1st.
Despite its low economic impact, the access of European fishermen to British waters was the final sticking point of the discussions, due to the political and social importance of the sector in several Member States, including France, the Bas, Denmark and Ireland.
But the British, who regained control of their waters, had made it the symbol of their regained sovereignty.
European negotiator Michel Barnier promised that the EU would be “alongside European fishermen to support them”. He stressed that there would be, despite this agreement, “real changes” on January 1 “for many citizens and businesses”.
Assistance to affected sectors
The European Union has set aside five billion euros in its budget to support the sectors most affected.
But without an agreement, trade between the EU and London would have been governed solely by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), synonymous with customs duties, quotas and administrative formalities: a dark scenario for a United Kingdom already battered by the health crisis and 47% of its exports are destined for the European market.
This amicable divorce, obtained in snatch after the last 24 hours under high tension, seals nearly half a century of heated marriage between the two partners, four and a half years after the June 2016 referendum on Brexit.