Head of EU Parliament fisheries committee takes tough line on Brexit deal

Michel Rose and Gabriela Baczynska
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier arrives for EU-Brexit talks in London
FILE PHOTO: EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier arrives for EU-Brexit talks in London

By Michel Rose and Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) - A French EU lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament's fisheries committee told Reuters there could be no annual quota negotiation in a trade deal with Britain, sticking to a tough line from Paris that could make a Brexit deal more difficult.

The EU and Britain are in crunch negotiations to get a deal on post-Brexit trade in place before an end-year deadline. Fishing is one of three main stumbling blocks.

The EU wants to secure consistent rights to fish in British waters, an important issue for France where coastal fishing communities are politically influential. Britain wants a deal more like that of non-EU member Norway, under which quotas are set each year.

EU countries are due to give a green light in the coming days for the bloc's executive Commission to negotiate a new fish deal with Norway, as well as a three-way EU-UK-Norway deal after the Brexit one is done.

Two EU diplomatic sources said other member states are trying to get France to compromise in the talks with Britain. But the EU Parliament's fisheries committee chairman Pierre Karleskind said avoiding annual negotiations over access and quotas was one of "our red lines".

"Who will invest in a fishing boat worth 3 million euros if they don't know whether they have the right to fish in two years' time?" said Karleskind, a member of French President Emmanuel Macron's liberal bloc.

The EU parliament must approve any deal.

The bloc has long said annual fishing quota negotiations are unacceptable, but sources have signalled a possible compromise.

Under one idea, the sides could agree to increase London's fish quotas over time, rather than overnight from Jan. 1, 2021 as London has sought.

Britain and Norway reached a separate fishing agreement, which includes annual quota negotiations and which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said proves "agreements can be found".

Some diplomats in the bloc told Reuters France would need to budge if there is to be a deal.

"The French realise full well that their demands on fisheries were unrealistic. We need them to climb down at some point," said an EU diplomat who follows Brexit and spoke under condition of anonymity.

A French diplomat, however, was adamant.

"They (the UK) want to double their catch in their own water ... The whole processing industry is in Europe, in France. They can leave their fish to rot on the docks of Dover. It won't take long before it stops being charming," the diplomat said.

RATCHET CLAUSE

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier met Merkel on Monday and is also due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron. EU sources said one purpose of the meetings is to ease French reluctance to compromise. Barnier is also due to call fisheries ministers from Denmark, Ireland, Germany and Poland.

Britain and the EU made progress in talks last week, leaving the bloc believing an overall agreement was getting closer. The two sides have given themselves until mid-October to assess if a deal is possible, but sources told Reuters the EU is gearing up to keep negotiating until as late as mid-November.

The other two most contentious issues are fair competition and ways to settle disputes. The EU wants a 'non-regression' clause that would ensure neither side can slip from standards on labour, the environment, social rights and state aid, from 2021.

An attached 'ratchet clause' would mean that if both the EU and UK were to upgrade their climate or other laws in future, these standards would become a new common floor.

Britain says that would be inappropriate as any such arrangement could tie the hands of its future governments.

The EU also wants to be able to hit trade if Britain violated any future state aid agreement. Britain disagrees, saying it wants control of its subsidy regime and that such clauses are not usually put in free trade agreements.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Catherine Evans)