The Council of the European Union authorized trade talks and adopted the bloc’s negotiation position on the EU’s future partnership with the U.K. on Tuesday.
“The EU is now ready to start negotiations,” Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, Croatian state secretary for European affairs, commented on behalf of her government holding the rotating presidency of the Council in the first six months of the year.
She called the mandate “clear and strong”, which confirms the EU’s “readiness to offer an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced partnership to the U.K. for the benefit of both sides.”
The U.K left the bloc on Jan. 31, ending its 47-year membership in the European integration. In the upcoming 10-month transition period, the U.K. and the EU are meant to agree on the terms of economic cooperation.
The European ministers approved minor changes on the draft mandate presented by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier earlier this month.
The 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 as the EU and the U.K. have very different opinions on the future of trade relations.
The EU is open for a free trade agreement that allows zero tariffs and quotas for importing British goods. But in return, the bloc insists on ensuring a “level playing field for open and fair competition.”
In reality, it means that the EU would ask the U.K. to uphold high standards on social affairs, environmental protection and state aid regulation, from which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to diverge after Brexit.
The EU also insists on an agreement on fisheries, which provides reciprocal access to market and waters, and caps the fishing with quotas for the sake of sustainability.
The U.K. is expected to reveal its negotiation position on Thursday.
By Agnes Szucs in Brussels