The author is a former EU commerce spokesman and co-founder of Shearwater World
With the Brexit deadline looming on December 31, I recall a former chief EU commerce negotiator saying, someday earlier than the top of a significant world commerce spherical that had dragged on for a dozen years: “There’s loads of time. We’ve got 24 hours left. What are you worrying about? That is when the EU begins negotiating.” The deal was struck that very evening.
I’ve little doubt there shall be a Brexit deal, though the EU’s talent at enjoying issues right down to the wire is known. Along with Britain’s obvious unpreparedness, that is inflicting widespread jitters within the press and on social media, and uncertainty within the financial system and amongst businesses. But for Brussels this can be a regular day on the workplace. The EU Fee’s job is to dealer offers between forces larger than itself, inside Europe and outdoors. It has nerves of metal, the disguise of an ox and no worry of cliff edges.
The stakes in that former negotiation — the so-called Uruguay Spherical — have been higher than these of Brexit: extra international locations have been concerned, there have been extra sticking factors and a much less united EU, to not point out entrenched opposition from European and US farmers to a deal in any respect. Brexit ought to be straightforward by comparability, as Britain is merely adjusting the buying and selling association it has had with the EU for nearly 50 years.
My optimism stems from two elements. The primary is that there isn’t a highly effective actor within the Brexit enviornment that opposes a deal. Noisy sure, however highly effective no.
British fishermen can kick up a stink within the tabloids, particularly in Scotland given renewed sensitivities about Scottish independence. However Whitehall is aware of that fishing general issues little to the financial system. The identical is true of the hardline Brexiters in Westminster who drive a lot of the anti-EU rhetoric. Boris Johnson’s parliamentary majority means this tail not wags the Tory canine. Dominic Cummings’ departure from Downing Road will additional dilute the revolutionary streak throughout the Brexit camp.
In the meantime on the EU facet, no member state opposes a deal. The one constituency that would trigger impasse — fish, once more — is split between a number of EU international locations and controls none of them. In brief, there isn’t a single emotive concern — like, say, agriculture — inflicting an enormous nation to dig in its heels, as there typically have been within the main commerce negotiations of previous.
The EU is steamed up about Britain undercutting its state aid regime, however it will hardly convey French, Germans, Italians or Spaniards on to the streets. And on this, as on different excellent points, the poison can always be drawn by organising obscure “rules” or creating one other technical committee. The EU has a drawerful of inventive options for kicking a problem down the highway and out of the headlines.
My second motive for optimism is geopolitical. With Donald Trump set to go away the White Home, Brussels and London will work arduous to revive transatlantic ties. Britain is aware of the EU issues to US president-elect Joe Biden, whereas the EU is aware of London’s ties with Washington run deeper than its personal. A Brexit deal is the perfect reward they might make collectively to the incoming president, assuming his fears over the Irish border and the Good Friday peace agreement are allayed. Furthermore, the perceived menace from China dwarfs any disagreements over Brexit. Britain, Europe and the US want one another like by no means earlier than.
My confidence that there shall be a deal wavers solely once I think about the psychology of Brexit. The EU is pushed by the top, however Brexit comes from the center. It’s a case of financial self-interest meets id politics, and the EU is just not accustomed to this.
EU negotiating positions are usually a mix of logic and ways: discover the financial wants of its key international locations (Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Poland, in that order); weave a compromise between them; then throw in a couple of morsels to purchase off smaller EU international locations, whereas constructing in some negotiating slack for the end-game. If the outcome appears good for the European financial system as an entire, it turns into the premise for a negotiation.
Lastly, the fee should put together for “hostage-taking”: any last-minute demand by an EU nation, presumably unrelated to Brexit, in return for its help. EU money normally does the trick. But when it’s a larger concern — resembling Spain and Gibraltar’s sovereignty — issues may get messy. However the fee can have deliberate forward for such crises too.
The issue with Brexit is that the referendum was seen in EU circles as a response to grievances largely unrelated to EU membership. The EU assumes that, even right down to the wire, London doesn’t know what it needs — however wants to make voters really feel sovereignty has been restored. So, when the fee lastly places its negotiating steamroller into high gear, it may face some surprises. Right here too although, ever-prepared, it should have carried out its disaster planning.