Somehow Brexit never ends, there are always pending fringes and now it is the turn of the MEPs. The trade agreement sealed between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which landed as a Christmas gift under the tree on December 24, has officially begun its journey in the European Parliament this Thursday, where it must be approved, as a previous step to its definitive ratification by the EU. MEPs will have to pronounce in binary terms, with a yes or a no, without the possibility of proposing amendments, on whether they give consent or reject the pact that regulates future relations between London and Brussels. He is not ruled out. But MEPs, unhappy with the low value placed on their role, want to make themselves heard and make it clear that this is a situation that should not be repeated. And that they remain vigilant.
Due to the fact that the negotiating teams exhausted the deadline to avoid the precipice until the last gasp (last December 31), they left Parliament without margin to exercise its mandatory mission of democratic scrutiny on the text. The EU decided then that its application would begin provisionally, thus bridging the abyss again, but unleashing the ire of MEPs, who once again see how they are ignored, in one of those typically European institutional battles: the largest trade treaty never sealed by the community club has it entered into force provisionally and without its parliamentarians having been able to debate a single page. Ratification should take place, in principle, before the end of February, which is when the provisional application ends, although an extension of the deadline could be granted, as demanded by MEPs.
Complaints about provisionality have been protagonists this morning in the European chamber. "This exceptional decision is the result of the exceptional nature of the negotiation and should not in any way constitute a precedent for future agreements in which sufficient time is granted for scrutiny and parliamentary debate and access to the text", has ruled this Thursday the German MEP David McAllister, who chairs the so-called UK Coordination Group, during the joint meeting of the parliamentary committees on International Trade and Foreign Affairs, the first meeting in which MEPs have started to officially examine the agreement.
At the meeting, Clara Martínez Alberola, deputy head of the European negotiating team and Michel Barnier's right-hand man, has appeared by videoconference, with the intention of clearing up the questions of the parliamentarians, so that they can shape a voting proposal for the Eurocamara. The Spanish Martínez Alberola has defended an agreement that she has described as "unique" and "balanced", with a "very ambitious" trade bloc that includes "unprecedented" provisions in similar trade agreements, and through whose "robust" mechanisms protection and surveillance "guarantees fair competition" between the parties.
Throughout this week, the European Parliament has already been preparing the deputies through other meetings in different committees in which senior officials of the European Commission and members of the negotiating team of the post-Brexit agreement have been responding to numerous questions, in a race against time to review the pact thoroughly and on time.
At the Trade Commission meeting, held on Monday, recurring doubts were raised about the arbitration mechanisms in case of dispute, the role of the European Parliament in the selection procedure of these arbitrators and also about the participation of this chamber in the Association Council (the body called to monitor the implementation of the agreement) and the possibility of creating an inter-parliamentary association with their British counterparts. Explanations were requested on financial services (the regulation of which has been partially left out of the agreement, and will have to be fixed in a future memorandum of understanding), data flows, appellations of origin and carbon emission rights trading.
The debate is complex, highly technical, and descends to the fine print of a 1,246-page agreement that has largely managed to save a huge flow of trade that moves goods worth more than 500,000 million euros a year. During the lengthy interrogation on Monday, Christophe Hansen, one of the two rapporteurs in charge of preparing the voting proposal on which the plenary session of the European Parliament will later decide, transferred his discomfort over the lack of time to the pact's leaders, who they listened to him on the other side of the screen: "We have to be clear: this is not what we want, nor do we want it to serve as a precedent."
"It's not the ideal situation," Hansen complains on the phone. "No trade agreement should enter into force unless we give consent." This Luxembourgian from the European People's Party recalls that the "exceptional" situation that has been reached is the result of "the UK's strategy of taking everything to the last minute to force concessions."
Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero, a Spanish MEP for the socialist group and also a member of the Trade Commission, says there was no other option: "The opposite was chaos." Rodríguez-Piñero explains that throughout the negotiation there was already intense contact with the EU chief negotiator and the rest of his team. "The main red lines that Parliament has marked have been maintained." In his opinion, the ratification of the European Parliament is assured with a large majority, bordering on unanimity. The small print, the doubts, the questions that have arisen will be dealt with in a resolution that will be approved in parallel, in which they will try to introduce "elements that must be reinforced or clarified" and in which they will symbolically mark their degree of adherence to the pact.
Pierre Karleskind, French MEP from the liberal Renew bloc and president of the Fisheries Commission, in charge of reviewing one of the most compromised points of the agreement, adds about this resolution: "In it we will propose everything that must be monitored and reformed." As you see it, the agreement is in a way a living body, which will evolve over time, and will require adapting EU regulations in the future or continuously monitoring the impact in different areas, as will be the case with the fishing territories affected by Brexit.
In its Fisheries commission, which this week held another of these meetings with the negotiating team, the recurring question was what will happen once the five and a half years that the agreement sets as the deadline for the review of quotas and access to the British waters, when a new quota and access negotiation process has to be entered each year. "What guarantees are there that the agreement will not be broken then?" Asks Karleskind. “That our ships will be able to continue going to British waters? This is where we need answers ”. And this, in turn, would raise new questions about other legs of the pact, such as access to the energy market, a much more succulent piece linked to respect for what is agreed in fishing.
Karleskind confesses that he is not happy with the deadlines they have been given: in just one week he will have to raise a position on fishing. But, in any case, it all depends on the prism through which you look at it. "We have more time than the British House of Commons," he breathes. “We have been given two months; they were given one day. "