Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Agenda

Post-Brexit and summer travel talks This WEEK

  • UK negotiator David Frost (l) and EU negotiator Michel Barnier in early March, before the pandemic forced meetings to take place online (Photo: European Commission)

Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU enter a crucial phase this week - the last round before a legal deadline, on 31 June, for the UK to request an extension of the transition period.

The transition period ends on 31 December, with no legal framework for future trade relations in place, recalling a similar drama over a cliff-edge Brexit back when the two sides were negotiating the UK's EU withdrawal agreement in recent years.

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  • Rome: Italy among EU states most keen to let tourists free to travel once again (Photo: gnuckx)

There has been little movement on key dossiers, among the same sold blame-gamesbetween Brussels and London.

London "has been taking a step back, two steps back, three steps back, from the original commitments," EU negotiator and French politician Michel Barnier told the British newspaper The Sunday Times.

The economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic made it all the more important for the EU and Britain to reach a deal, he added.

But for his part, British prime minister Boris Johnson has categorically ruled out asking for an extension to the status quo, in which EU laws still apply in the UK in return for free trade.

Summer off/on?

Meanwhile, with the pandemic easing, some European states have begun to relax internal as well as border restrictions.

And, on Thursday (4 June), MEPs in the European Parliament's (EP's) civil liberties committee will vote on a non-binding resolution, expected to urge lifting temporary border checks in the EU and the wider passport-free 'Schengen' travel zone.

EU transport ministers will also meet online in the EU Council the same day to discuss free travel - a symbol of European unity.

They might touch upon a dispute on how to handle vouchers or cash refunds for cancelled holidays.

And EU home affairs ministers, on Friday, will discuss how border checks can be removed in a "coordinated, non-discriminatory, and proportionate" way, the EU Council said.

They will also be asked to share national timelines for relaxing border checks, it added.

Money and rights

For their part, MEPs on the agriculture committee will start the week by facing down EU commissioner Johannes Hahn, in charge of budgets, after the European Commission, last week, unveiled its latest ideas on how to chop up over €1 trillion during the next seven years.

EP president David Sassoli will also meet online on Tuesday with key MEPs in charge of budget issues, an area where the parliament has full legal power.

On Friday, MEPs in the human rights subcommittee will discuss the use of digital surveillance during the pandemic and its impact on human rights.

On Thursday, justice ministers will also hold online talks on setting up a European Public Prosecutors Office to hunt down thieves of EU funds.

MEPs on the civil liberties committee will, the same day, discuss implementation, or lack thereof, of national Roma integration strategies with EU equality commissioner Helena Dalli and with the director of an EU agency, the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency, Michael O'Flaherty.

The strategies were drawn up to combat racism and other negative attitudes towards Europe's largest stateless ethnic minority.

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