The EU heads of government yesterday supported the extension of the round of talks that Brussels has with London in order to regulate trade relations between both parties before the end of the year, the date on which Brexit enters fully into force. Despite the Council’s pleasure and the determined European will to do everything possible to close a friendly exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, it seems increasingly difficult to achieve that goal. The Council itself yesterday urged the Commission to design possible unilateral contingency measures of a limited duration if Brexit finally ends without an agreement, and there are already several voices that consider the negative outcome of the negotiations as probable. Both the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Italian President, Giuseppe Conte, have warned that the pact with London cannot be reached at any price, while French President Emmanuel Macron openly acknowledged the possibility that the divorce could take place at the bravas.
The EU guidelines for the negotiation have correct and clearly marked red lines: those established in the withdrawal agreement and in the protocols signed by London and Brussels, which remain fully in force and must be respected. The unusual decision of the British Government to promote a law that breaks with some points of the agreement, mainly those related to commercial activity on the border with Northern Ireland, has become a bone of contention with enough potential to burst the long negotiating path traveled so far in London and Brussels.
Europe must stand firm in defending an agreement that has been widely discussed and negotiated with the United Kingdom and that contains the roadmap on which the commercial relationship between the EU and the British must be built. However, and without departing from that framework, which is fully legitimate, Brussels must also do everything possible to avoid a rupture that could seriously damage the European economy, mired in a crisis of historic dimensions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Both the EU and the United Kingdom are enduring the scourge of an unprecedented recession not only because of its intensity, but also because of the extraordinary uncertainty it has sown in all European economies. Faced with a scenario like this, it is necessary more never to call for responsibility and cooperation to design trade rules of the game that will help the recovery of the whole of Europe instead of hindering it.