After the first round of talks, the EU’s chief negotiator pointed out "serious differences" between the EU and the U.K. on the future of relationship.
“Negotiations are very difficult, but I continue to believe that we can reach an agreement,” Michel Barnier told reporters in Brussels.
The U.K. left the bloc on Jan. 31 after being a member of the European integration for 47 years. Till the end of this year, the U.K. and the EU are meant to agree on the terms of economic cooperation.
The first round of negotiations took place in Brussels this week.
“The U.K. spent a lot of time on insisting its independence. Nobody contends that, but we also ask them to respect our own independence,” Barnier said, implying that the EU sticks to setting its own conditions.
The EU’s negotiation position involves three main chapters: economic partnership, cooperation on security and foreign policy, and an institutional framework governing future relations.
The most crucial part is the economic chapter where the EU and the U.K. have very different opinions.
The EU is open for a free trade agreement that allows zero tariffs and quotas but in return, the bloc insists on ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.
The EU asked the U.K. to formally engage to uphold high standards on social affairs, environmental protection and state aid regulation, but there are still very serious divergences between the two sides, Barnier explained.
The U.K. negotiators are also against the EU’s condition on combining the trade deal with an agreement on fisheries, which provides reciprocal access to markets and waters, and caps the fishing with quotas.
The partners have different opinions on the nature of the agreement, as well. While the EU wants a global framework, the U.K. prefers sectorial arrangement.
There is disagreement on certain legal aspects of the future cooperation on the fight against terrorism, money laundering, and organized crime.
The next round of negotiations will start in London on March 18.
By Agnes Szucs in Brussels