DFor four years, Brexit has dominated Europe, but in the coming weeks it is expected that an agreement on the future EU-UK relationship can finally be negotiated.
At what price? What if the talks fail? From Dublin Euronews has interviewed the Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin.
– Shona Murray, Euronews: I think we can say that the talks are in injury time. How long is the EU going to negotiate?
– Michel Martin .: Well, sometimes you can get a good result in injury time. And I think it’s important, given the enormity of the issues, the enormity of the implications of the lack of agreement.
Let me say, in terms of the economy of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe, that we must use all the time available to reach an agreement. Because, and I put it bluntly, I think that a no-deal would be very bad for our economy, for the UK economy and indeed for Europe as well. Politicians have a commitment to the people they represent.
– Euronews: We are almost at that point where it will not be possible for each member state to perhaps ratify the agreement, and for parliament to have a say in the agreement. So what will happen if it takes a week or so? Will there be a bridging situation? Could the agreement from before ratification be applied in January? What could happen?
– MM: Well, our immediate focus, obviously, is to try to make sure that the EU and the UK can come to an agreement that is satisfactory in terms of a future relationship. Europe has the capacity to develop adequate ratification procedures. I recognize that time is running out. But I do believe that with a degree of creativity, we can facilitate the ratification of an agreement, perhaps in stages. But I think it is a problem that we can solve satisfactorily once we reach an agreement.
– Euronews: So the outstanding issues are of course still fishing, where there has been very little progress since March on this issue; and a level playing field, state subsidies and governance. Can you tell us where you are at this stage and what has failed to close the disagreement?
– MM: I think we are all aware of the fears on both sides that one would gain an advantage over the other in relation to the application of state aid. But I do believe that there is a convergence zone on the playing field, which then leads to a dispute resolution mechanism that would allow both parties to react if one of them were undermining and violating the agreement. I believe that behind all this there is a need for trust and to rebuild trust between the European Union and the United Kingdom. On the basis of strong trust, the future relationship between the UK and Europe can work better.
– Euronews: How seriously has that confidence been damaged during the last four years of negotiations? and the most important: the invoice of the internal markets if it is approved. Would it violate Irish protocol?
– MM: Well, I think the UK Internal Markets Act eroded confidence. That said, I think the measured response from the European Union has been important here in terms of settling things and keeping the focus on the essence of the negotiations themselves, around the future trade relationship. Because if a future business relationship can be fixed, that should neutralize the offending clauses in UK internal market law and would not need to be reintroduced. So I think it has been handled in a measured and appropriate way, given the enormity of what is at stake in Brexit for so many people.
– Euronews: You are telling us that these clauses would be annulled by a trade agreement. However, the UK says whatever happens, they will not remove those clauses. And that’s what the EU says. It is a prerequisite. It’s not like that? I mean, the UK is quite blunt in saying that it will NOT repeal that part of the legislation.
– MM: Yes, I think we have to go step by step. I would also like to point out that the UK House of Lords has delivered a verdict that leaves no room for doubt on the offending clauses and on the Internal Market Bill. And the bill itself has had a very bumpy ride so far, however, even in the context of Scotland, for example, and Wales and at the recent British Irish Council meeting, that was very clear.
But putting that aside, I think that if the essence of the deal is that we have a very viable future trade relationship with the UK, I think there is a lot to be derived from that.
And the fears and statements made by the UK will clearly not materialize if there is a trade deal with Europe. So I think those two sections can disappear.
– Euronews: We move on to other issues in Europe. In July, there was that unprecedented deal for the EU budget deal and the € 750 billion bailout fund. Now there are two countries that are against it; that are hampering their progress when there are many Member States that really need access to that money. What is your opinion on the Hungarian and Polish initiatives last week?
– MM: I am very, very disappointed with that change. I think it is unjustified. This is a very important financial package. It was a historic breakthrough in terms of mutualisation of debt with all EU states working together to raise money in the markets. And seeing it slowed down or held back due to two member states struggling with the agreement reached between parliament and council – on the rule of law – is very regrettable.
– Euronews: Speaking of those countries specifically: the fact is that they are preventing member states from accessing that money. The fact that they persecute illiberal democracies, that diminish the rights of LGBT people, of refugees. In Hungary, the government expelled a university. They both systematically violate the rule of law and are only asked to respect the basic rule of law. Speaking of those two countries. What is your position?
– MM: Well, my position is that they should withdraw their objections to this economic package and facilitate access to money for member states.
I think the treaty is there to address the undermining of the fundamental values of the EU. I have great concern regarding the attitude of member states, particularly Poland, for example in relation to LGBT + issues. And that is not acceptable to many in Ireland, referring to that topic. And more generally, I would say, however, that there are mechanisms within the treaty in which any undermining of EU values must be addressed.
And in my opinion, given the severity of the crisis caused by covid-19, it is very, very important that these remaining obstacles are removed. And I think also that two Member States (Hungary and Poland) should take into account the genuine opinions of other Member States on these issues.