Brexit: France needs to 'speak language of strength' says Beaune
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Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission, met with Clement Beaune, France’s State Secretary for European Affairs, on Monday afternoon. Later, on Twitter he described how the two had “discussed the application of the [UK-EU] agreement, in particular the issue of the licenses of fish.”
In addition, Mr Beaune wrote: “European unity, full respect for our agreements, relentless defence of our fishermen.”
His latest intervention comes amid continuing EU-mediated talks over what France perceives as a lack of access to UK waters after Brexit.
France has repeatedly complained the UK and Jersey have not granted as many licenses as French fishermen are applying for.
Two Royal Naval river-class patrol boats, HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, were sent to Jersey in May, after French fishermen threatened to blockade Jersey’s harbour in protest.
France had previously said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports, and set an ultimatum deadline of the Monday after the start of the COP26 climate summit.
However, after the UK Government threatened to start “rigorous” checks on EU fishing activities in retaliation, just hours before the deadline, France climbed down.
Instead, President Emmanuel Macron agreed to return to discussions between the two nations and the European Commission, and ruled out any reprisals “while we’re negotiating”.
Last week, Mr Sefcovic issued a stark warning to the UK to conclude negotiations over fishing rights “on time and in a satisfactory manner” as talks over the Northern Irish border continue.
French ministers have been accused of seeking to stoke tensions over the issue in recent months.
In a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen last month – which was leaked – French Prime Minister Jean Castex told the EU to use “levers at its disposal” to “make clear that compliance with the commitments entered into is non-negotiable and that leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”.
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The letter added: “The uncooperative attitude of the United Kingdom today risks not only causing great harm to fishermen, mainly French, but also for the [European] union, in that it sets a precedent for the future and challenges our credibility and our ability to assert our rights with regard to international commitments signed by the union.
“If no satisfactory solution is found in this context, the European Union will have to apply Article 506 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and take corrective measures, in a manner proportionate to the economic and social damage resulting from the breaches.”
He urged Ms von der Leyen to consider “customs duties on certain fishery products” as punishment.
Prior to a recent meeting with the UK’s Brexit Secretary Lord Frost, Mr Beaune also said that “our objective has not changed: to enforce the agreement, to obtain our licences, to defend the interests of our fishermen.”
Mr Macron himself has said France would “continue to fight” on the issue, and that his government would “not abandon our fishermen.”
He appeared to suggest negotiations were dragging on for too long, suggesting the European Commission “has to see this through, but it’s moving too slowly, too weakly.
Mr Macron said: “If the Commission doesn’t play its part, France will do it.”
As per the Brexit agreement reached with the EU at the end of last year, 25 percent of the EU’s fishing rights in UK waters will be transferred over to the UK from 2021 to 2026.
However, the majority of that – 15 percent – will be transferred in 2021, with a further 2.5 percent transferred over in the following four years.
This “adjustment period” allows EU fishers time to get used to the new arrangements. They have until June 30, 2026, after which there will be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared between the UK and the EU.
By 2026, it is estimated that UK boats will have access to an extra £145m of fishing quota every year.
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