EU-UK relations: New momentum, let´s not miss it.

More than seven years have passed since the Brexit referendum and more than three years since the EU-UK Withdrawal agreement entered into force. It has not been an easy divorce. The EU sometimes – wrongly – overemphasised the “you made a mistake” message that was being spread both internally and externally. For the UK, it was not always clear what terms it was seeking and what kind of independence it wanted. 

Now we can look into the future with more confidence and we can finally open a new chapter in our relationship. Russia’s war against Ukraine has put us in a completely new, more geostrategic context. The United Kingdom is a key partner and a close ally with whom we have enjoyed excellent cooperation in supporting Ukraine.

We must be ready for a process, not a revolution. That means understanding each other better and building trust – not dwelling on the past or issuing threats and presenting ultimatums in Brussels or London. The time for risking unilateral action is hopefully behind us. Moving forward means, first, and foremost being pragmatic – i.e. relying on normalising, deepening and reinventing our ties.

Normalisation has already taken place with the Windsor Agreement. It provides a set of practical and shared solutions for the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This new arrangement addresses the concerns of citizens and businesses while ensuring that the EU’s single market remains protected. Most importantly, it will allow us to safeguard the peace progress of the Good Friday Agreement signed in Belfast 25 years ago. It’s not up to the EU to interfere, even indirectly, in the UK’s constitutional framework. On the contrary, we must understand the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as expressed in both their recent election results and in their political preferences. This is a very sensitive situation which deserves a great deal of empathy.

Next, deepening the relationship: We are neighbours, partners, natural allies and friends. The UK is the EU’s third largest trading partner (12.6 per cent), after the United States and China. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), negotiated in a record nine months in 2020, will be up for review in 2026. This is an important opportunity to upgrade the agreement. The most obvious would be to add a chapter on cooperation in the area of foreign and security policy, given the geopolitical tensions not only in Europe, but also globally in the multilateral world, and with new challenges such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. A compromise needs to be found on research cooperation and the UK’s possible participation in the Horizon Europe programme. We should look again at student exchanges, where both sides of the Channel can benefit from an EU-UK alliance. Last but not least, there is certainly a need for more cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration, which we will not be able to tackle separately. Financial services or fisheries are other areas where things can be done better.

Third, we need to start working on reinventing our EU-UK relationship in a broader perspective and with bolder imagination. All options need to be put on the table, including those that seem to be unlikely at the moment. A future relationship with the UK should also fit into a wider rethinking of Europe’s institutional architecture. There is an EU, but there is also the new European Political Community, imagined by Macron and first realised in Prague during the Czech presidency. In the coming decade, the EU will have to see how to manage the aspirations of Ukraine and the Western Balkan states that want to join. Nearly forgotten debates on variable geometry and a multi-speed Europe will revive. So will the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, which is bound to resurface sooner or later.

As we approach the next regular session of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly in Brussels, we can say that our relationship is gaining new momentum. Let´s not miss it.

Source: Euractiv.com

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