The author is a former EU commerce spokesman and co-founder of Shearwater International
With the Brexit deadline looming on December 31, I recall a former chief EU commerce negotiator saying, someday earlier than the tip of a significant world commerce spherical that had dragged on for a dozen years: “There’s loads of time. We now have 24 hours left. What are you worrying about? That is when the EU begins negotiating.” The deal was struck that very night time.
I’ve little doubt there can be a Brexit deal, though the EU’s talent at taking part in issues all the way down to the wire is famous. 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 it is a regular day on the workplace. The EU Fee’s job is to dealer offers between forces larger than itself, inside Europe and out of doors. It has nerves of metal, the conceal of an ox and no concern of cliff edges.
The stakes in that former negotiation — the so-called Uruguay Spherical — had been higher than these of Brexit: extra nations had 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 must be simple 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 components. The primary is that there isn’t a highly effective actor within the Brexit area 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 total 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 now not wags the Tory canine. Dominic Cummings’ departure from Downing Avenue will additional dilute the revolutionary streak inside the Brexit camp.
In the meantime on the EU aspect, no member state opposes a deal. The one constituency that might trigger impasse — fish, once more — is split between a number of EU nations and controls none of them. In brief, there isn’t a single emotive challenge — like, say, agriculture — inflicting a giant nation to dig in its heels, as there typically had been within the main commerce negotiations of previous.
The EU is steamed up about Britain undercutting its state aid regime, however this may hardly carry French, Germans, Italians or Spaniards on to the streets. And on this, as on different excellent points, the poison can always be drawn by establishing obscure “rules” or creating one other technical committee. The EU has a drawerful of inventive options for kicking a problem down the street and out of the headlines.
My second motive for optimism is geopolitical. With Donald Trump set to depart the White Home, Brussels and London will work onerous 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 one of the best present 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 risk 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 can be a deal wavers solely once I think about the psychology of Brexit. The EU is pushed by the pinnacle, however Brexit comes from the guts. It’s a case of financial self-interest meets identification politics, and the EU is just not accustomed to this.
EU negotiating positions are usually a combination of logic and ways: discover the financial wants of its key nations (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 nations, whereas constructing in some negotiating slack for the end-game. If the end result seems good for the European financial system as a complete, 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 assist. EU money often does the trick. But when it’s a larger challenge — reminiscent of Spain and Gibraltar’s sovereignty — issues may get messy. However the fee could 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 all the way 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 prime gear, it may face some surprises. Right here too although, ever-prepared, it is going to have completed its disaster planning.