EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan says the British government is not planning for success in negotiations over its future relationship with the EU.
In remarks to Irish broadcaster RTÉ on May 7th, the Kilkenny man complained that, ‘despite the urgency and enormity of the negotiating challenge,’ progress in the talks, which were due to restart on May 11th, was ‘very slow’” Speaking on Today with Seán O’Rourke – a day before the Portlaoise-born radio stalwart retired from the mid-morning current affairs slot – Hogan said there was ‘no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.’
He thought UK government officials ‘don’t want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything.’ Without a ‘step change’ in approach, the combination of the pandemic and Brexit would be ‘an almighty blow to the UK economy later in the year,’ with effects which would hit Ireland and other countries.
The former Farm Commissioner (2014-2019) stressed the unity of EU countries and advised against London using ‘divide and rule tactics.’ Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned on May 5th, following consultations with EU negotiator Michel Barnier, that the bloc would not back down on its insistence on the inclusion of fisheries and a level playing field on trade, in the negotiations.
‘The necessary progress really isn’t there,’ he said on RTÉ radio. Without significant advances, ‘then I think we are going to reach yet another crisis point in the Brexit negotiations, which from the Irish point of view is very, very serious,’ the Corkman stressed.
As agricultural markets continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, the Croatian Presidency planned to host a further high-level video conference among Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers on May 13th. Guided by Croatia’s Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković, delegations were also due to hold an exchange of views on the suite of market measures adopted by the Commission thus far.
Commissioners Janusz Wojciechowski (Agriculture) and Virginijus Sinkevičius (Environment & Fisheries) were both expected to contribute to this second high-level discussion. As this is not a ‘formal’ gathering, no decisions can be taken.
The presidency tabled two questions to steer the debate. The first related to the measures proposed and adopted in response to the impact of the pandemic on the farming sector and whether Ministers believe they are effective and sufficient; the second asks if there are any further instruments that should be considered, and if so, how these would be financed.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS.