As French President Emmanuel Macron faces an increasing slide in popularity, he is intensifying his country’s position in the European Unions’s trade talks with the United Kingdom.
The issue of fisheries is proving to be one of the main battlegrounds, with Macron wanting the UK to keep its waters open to European fishermen, particularly French fishermen.
Macron is now stating that if the UK does not keep its waters open, the EU will deny it access to the European energy market. The idea is that the fishing industry is worth about 850 million euros to Europe, but access to the European energy market is worth up to 2.5 billion euros to the UK.
He said that the EU and the UK “in particular” need to make greater effort to come to an agreement over a trade deal.
“It’s the United Kingdom that wanted to leave the European Union and which needs a deal more than we do,” Macron said.
Negotiations reached a stalemate last week, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the country should prepare for an Australia-stlye trade agreement — in essence meaning no agreement — as the EU did not seem to want to arrange a Canada-stlye agreement.
Britain and the EU are currently in a transition period, allowing the two entities to continue trade as if Britain was still a member of the group. But that comes to an end on December 31, whether or not a new trade agreement is in place.
“We are ready to continue to talk, in good faith, to advance, but I will also be very clear: We will no sacrifice any position, any interest and we will not sacrifice our fishermen,” Macron said, in a statement that doesn’t seem designed to sweet talk the UK back to the bargaining table.
French fishermen will “not be sacrificed” for the sake of a deal, Macron said.
“If conditions aren’t met, it’s possible we don’t have an agreement. We are ready for that. If there are no good terms found at the end of the discussion, we are ready for a no-deal,” Macron said, basically doubling down on Johnson’s previous comments.
The right to protect British fishing waters from European fishermen was one of the key drivers of the Brexit vote, with fishing boats protesting on the Thames. It is therefore difficult for the UK to allow EU fishermen to enter its waters as before.
Some may think that the threat to cut off the UK from Europe’s energy market is like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face — both in terms of cost to the consumer, and also cost to the environment. As the UK builds its energy sector with an increase in environmentally-friendly wind power, how would Europe replace the energy lost? Would it turn to a greater reliance on power from pseudo-enemy Russia via the environmentally unfriendly natural gas?
It has previously been stated that a decision on the trade agreement must be reached by the end of this month if it is to have any chance of being finalised and signed before the December 31 deadline. If that is so, there are less than two weeks left to reach an agreement, or the UK will indeed have to go it alone, maybe with even less than an Australia-style agreement, and rely solely on WTO rules.
On the flip side of the coin, the EU too will have to live with WTO rules as it trades with the UK, which isn’t great for them either.
What will be key for the UK is to create a decent trade agreement with the United States. With that in hand, it can then set about creating new trade deals with other countries, both large and small.
But the UK’s chances of getting that deal quickly and smoothly depend on who will win the upcoming general election there. The Democrats, led by Joe Biden, have already stated that they will resist any deal with the UK, unless it falls in line with EU demands on Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, it appears that a Trump administration would be taking no such position. But the likelihood of the Republicans winning this election seem very low.