British and Europeans meet Tuesday by videoconference for a new session of discussions with little hope of progress, despite the pressure of the calendar and the risk of a "no deal".
Michel Barnier, the European negotiator, warned Sunday in the Sunday Times that there would be "no agreement" if London did not reverse its previous positions and reproached the British for choosing "only what suited them" in the European single market.
On Monday, 10 Downing Street accused Brussels of wanting to introduce "unbalanced proposals which would tie the United Kingdom to European rules or standards" in the negotiations, and denounced demands "unprecedented in free trade agreements".
After three discussion sessions started in early March, one per month, the gap remains wide between the positions of each other. The situation is complicated by the coronavirus pandemic which forces the hundreds of negotiators on both sides to work by videoconference.
For Michel Barnier, this new round of talks scheduled until Friday should make it possible "to know if the United Kingdom wants to leave the internal market and the customs union (...) with or without agreement with us".
A balance sheet of the discussions must be drawn up in June before a meeting at the highest level between the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
- "Minimum agreement"? -
London had made this milestone a deadline by threatening not to continue talks if progress was not enough. But that was before the shock caused by the pandemic, which plunged the Old Continent into a probably historic recession, and upset the deal.
For Brussels, the relationship with London after the divorce of January 31, the end of 47 years of life together, has gone into the background in the face of the urgency of economic recovery.
"There is not much to expect from these new discussions. But I do not think that the British will break up in the absence of progress. The situation has totally changed with the virus," says expert Anand. Menon from the research center "The UK in a Changing Europe".
London must however decide before the end of June on a request to postpone the end of the transitional period for a year or even two. The British government has repeatedly ruled out this possibility, even if the EU asked for it.
"During his meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, Boris Johnson will undoubtedly want to send a voluntarist message on the date of December 31. This does not mean that he abandoned the ambition of an agreement, even at least , by December, "says Eric Maurice of the Schuman Foundation.
If the United Kingdom decides to stop talks and therefore take the risk of a no deal "for political reasons, it will be near the end of December", predicts Anand Menon.
While displaying incompatible positions on the main subjects of the negotiations - architecture of the agreement (one or more), conditions of fair competition (on environmental, social, tax standards), dispute settlement, access rights for fishermen in British waters - both sides say they want to find a compromise.
"If there is one, it will be very late in the discussions and not before the fall," predicted the British expert.
According to other observers, London could also be tempted by a no deal, the potentially devastating effect of which could be attributed to the economic consequences of the shock of the pandemic.
© 2020 AFP