Brexit Talks Entering Decisive Days, EU’s Von Der Leyen Says

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the coming days will be “decisive” for trade negotiations with the U.K. and crucial differences between the two sides remain.

“Frankly I cannot tell you today if there will be a deal,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Brussels. “There are still three issues that can make the difference between a deal and no deal.”

Von der Leyen said the disagreements that have bedeviled the talks since the beginning are still proving difficult: the level playing field for business, the enforcement of any agreement and access to British fishing waters.

Brexit Talks Entering Decisive Days, EU’s Von Der Leyen Says

“With very little time ahead of us, we will do all in our power to reach an agreement,” she added.

Negotiations are continuing virtually after a member of the European team tested positive for the coronavirus but face-to-face contact is expected to resume in London before the end of the week. Officials on both sides have expressed optimism that an agreement is possible and could be reached by the end of next week.

“In the discussions about state aid we have still serious issues, for instance when it comes to enforcement,” von der Leyen said. “Significant difficulties remain on the question how we can secure -- now and over time -- our common high standards on labor and social rights, the environment, climate change and tax transparency.”

Before the European Commission chief spoke, U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden used a conversation with reporters to remind the U.K. of the importance of sticking by the agreement it struck last year to keep the Irish border free of checkpoints after Brexit. Reneging on those commitments could disrupt any potential trade deal before it’s ratified.

“We do not want a guarded border,” Biden said on Tuesday. “The idea of having the border, north and south, once again being closed. We’ve just got to keep the border open.”

Turning away from Brexit, von der Leyen broached the topic of the rule of law in the EU as Poland and Hungary threaten to withhold agreement on the bloc’s budget and pandemic recovery fund amid a row over plans to tie the funding to basic principles such as the maintenance of an independent judiciary.

Rule of Law

“In July all 27 member states agreed on a conditionality mechanism,” von der Leyen said. “We’re talking here about violations of the principle of the rule of law, which are now threatening the EU budget.”

She described the rule of law conditions as appropriate, proportionate and necessary.

“It is very difficult to imagine that anybody in Europe could have anything against this principle.”

With the coronavirus still ravaging the continent, von der Leyen welcomed the European Commission’s contracts with six different vaccine suppliers and said the first Europeans might be vaccinated before the end of the December.

But she warned against repeating the mistakes of the summer.

“Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas,” she said. “Weeks ago, I said that this Christmas will be different. And yes, it will be quieter.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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