Posts Tagged ‘markets’

Michel Barnier: ‘Narrow path’ to Brexit deal still open

LUXEMBOURG CITY —  Michel Barnier thinks a Brexit deal is difficult but still possible this week.

The EU’s chief negotiator told ministers on Tuesday the U.K. and the EU are yet to resolve the issue of customs in Northern Ireland, working on a solution that implies that checks on goods will have to take place outside the island of Ireland in some way that aligns with EU law, according to a diplomat in the room. Experts from the European Commission have been brought into discussions since Sunday to try to resolve the issue and Barnier said a “narrow path” to a deal is still open.

However, he added that only one day remains for the two sides to agree a new version of the text if a deal is to be signed off by leaders at the European Council summit on Thursday, the diplomats said.

“Even if the agreement will be difficult, more and more difficult, to be frank, it is still possible this week,” Barnier told reporters as he arrived at Tuesday’s meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg to debrief them on the intensive Brexit talks launched at the end of last week.

“Obviously, any agreement must work for everyone, the whole of the United Kingdom, and the whole of the European Union … it is high time to turn good intention in a legal text,” he said.

“We always have shown a great deal of flexibility, but that hasn’t led to the necessary changes in London unfortunately” — Michael Roth, German EU minister

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn echoed Barnier’s more positive tone. “They will try to reach a deal by this evening, if not possible it’s likely there will be another summit. There is some optimism,” he said.

U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay made an unexpected visit to the meeting in Luxembourg. “The talks are ongoing. We need to give them space to proceed. But detailed conversations are under way and a deal is still very possible,” he said.

One EU diplomat said it’s possible there will be a new legal text Wednesday when EU27 ambassadors will meet to scrutinize it ahead of the gathering of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. This text must provide a feasible solution for the key problem of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the diplomats say.

The new talks started to show signs of progress last Thursday after a meeting between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, leading Barnier to announce Friday the resumption of serious talks.

New talks started to show signs of progress last Thursday after a meeting between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar | Noel Mullen/ Irish Government Press Office via Getty Images

However, ministers arriving at the General Affairs Council were skeptical.

“We always have shown a great deal of flexibility, but that hasn’t led to the necessary changes in London unfortunately,” said German EU Minister Michael Roth. “I won’t bet any money on a Brexit happening this week, but I will wait for Mr. Barnier’s presentation,” said Malta’s EU Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.

The two sides are exchanging draft texts, said another EU diplomat, but Brexit officials say they have not been informed of any new text presented by London. Another diplomat said the U.K. is expected to come back with a new draft for discussion Tuesday, though diplomats caution that a breakthrough doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

In light of skepticism that a deal can be agreed in time, discussions are also focused on possible extensions to negotiations. Amélie de Montchalin, the French EU Minister, repeated the French position that “if a major political change was to intervene in the U.K, that could be the justification for an extension discussion if that was asked. A major political change would be new elections, a referendum, something that would change the political dynamic.”

Diplomats say an extension seems very hard to avoid as some think it will take at least a month to reach a deal. Much depends on how close the agreed solution is to the original EU plan, put forward in February 2018. Under that proposal, Northern Ireland would effectively stay in the EU’s single market and customs union after Brexit as part of a “backstop” provision for the Irish border, a mechanism designed to ensure that there is never a hard border on the island of Ireland whatever happens in future trade talks.

The latest discussions were triggered after the U.K agreed to restart talks using the February 2018 proposal as a starting point. The closer the final agreement is to that solution, the quicker it would be for the EU to reach a deal, one of the diplomats said.

Barnier told ministers there are now three possible scenarios: deadlock, further negotiations or an agreement on a legal text by Tuesday evening, something that he described as difficult but possible, said the diplomat in the room.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Rotten tomatoes or standing ovations? Commissioners’ hearings reviewed

It’s the theatrical run everyone had been waiting for. Well, everyone in the Brussels bubble. Maybe.

Over the past couple of weeks, aspiring European commissioners have been putting on a series of one-woman and one-man shows at the European Parliament. Their aim: to convince MEPs that they deserve a five-year run on the Brussels stage.

So who won over the audience and the critics in their confirmation hearings? Who was more “meh” than megastar? And who had the punters reaching for the rotten fruit?

POLITICO watched every performance (so normal people didn’t have to) and the reviews are in.

Top performers

Frans Timmermans (Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Netherlands) 

High point: Timmermans’ rendition of a snippet of poetry from Edwin James Milliken to liken the Earth’s climate trajectory to that of a man who falls asleep while driving a train — a rather dramatic end to the hearing. “For the pace is hot, and the points are near, and sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear; and signals flash through the night in vain. Death is in charge of the clattering train!”

Timmermans charmed MEPs with his linguistic skills, made some firm policy pledges and kept the drama to a minimum Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Low point: The largely polished Timmermans flubbed in a couple policy areas that did not go unnoticed by MEPs — he erroneously suggested the EU’s Emissions Trading System did not cover aviation and was accused of dodging questions on agriculture.

Key quote: “It’s absolutely clear there’s no future in coal.”

Verdict: Akin to a well-produced documentary. Timmermans charmed MEPs with his linguistic skills, made some firm policy pledges and kept the drama to a minimum.

Rating (out of 5): ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Didier Reynders (Justice, Belgium)

High point: Reynders championed the rule of law and consumers. He pleased many MEPs by pledging to push hard for an answer from the Council on a controversial proposal that would allow groups of consumers to sue companies and seek compensation.

Low point: MEPs tried to push Reynders on domestic allegations of corruption but he stuck to his lawyer-approved boilerplate answer and denied all allegations. “This person publicly stated he wanted to stop me from becoming European commissioner,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish on anybody what my family, my spouse, those close to me had to experience.”

Key quote: “We need to ask more and more information on the algorithms” — promising to open the black box of artificial intelligence.

Didier Reynders didn’t get into trouble, dodged domestic allegations successfully and smoothly handled questions| Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Plot twist: The lights went out in the middle of the hearing, forcing everyone to move two floors up. The ushers got a huge round of applause for preparing a new room within 20 minutes.

Verdict: Solid all-round performance. Didn’t get into trouble, dodged domestic allegations successfully and smoothly handled questions ranging from consumer rights to rule of law, and from data protection to AI.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Stella Kyriakides (Health, Cyprus)

High point: A breast cancer survivor and former president of a breast cancer patients group, Kyriakides got into the weeds on cancer prevention methods as she called for “all hands on deck” to beat the disease.

Low point: “I’m trying to understand why I haven’t been convincing on pesticides,” Kyriakides said after fielding five questions on the topic.

Though MEPs were, indeed, unconvinced by what she said on pesticides, they soaked up Stella Kyriakides’ expertise on health | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “In no way do I underestimate the effect that pesticides have on health, and it would be unheard of to be health commissioner and not to take this on.”

Verdict: Though MEPs were, indeed, unconvinced by what she said on pesticides, they soaked up Kyriakides’ expertise on health — especially given that her hearing was immediately after Polish nominee Janusz Wojciechowski’s first, bumbling performance.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Phil Hogan (Trade, Ireland)

High point: Hogan won spontaneous applause from across the political spectrum after a hearing in which he ticked all the boxes: He knew the MEPs and the subjects that mattered to them. He had the talking points to address each major political group’s priorities.

Low point: He kept getting his future boss’s name wrong: He talked about a certain “Mrs. van der Leyen.” He also ducked questions on how he planned to enforce environmental and labor rights chapters in trade agreements.

Hogan was well-prepared. It was clear that he was not on the parliamentarians’ hit list | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “Europe has to stand up for itself.”

Verdict: Hogan was well-prepared. It was clear that he was not on the parliamentarians’ hit list.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Helena Dalli (Equality, Malta)

High point: Dalli quickly shot down an MEP from the far-right ID group, who suggested that allowing people to “choose” their gender would allow people to “cheat” sporting rules. “Gender reassignment is certainly not a walk in the park,” Dalli said to applause.

Low point: Dalli didn’t reply directly to a question about whether she was satisfied with the public inquiry set up last month by the Maltese government to look into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Helena Dalli’s strong and personal testimony impressed MEPs| Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “The 21st century must be the century of women being equal.”

Verdict: Dalli’s strong and personal testimony impressed MEPs and within hours it was clear she had the necessary majority to be confirmed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Virginijus Sinkevičius (Environment & Oceans, Lithuania)

High point: “For us 2050 is not just a target on a piece of paper, we have to live it,” the 28-year-old nominee said of the lofty goal of reaching climate neutrality by mid-century.

Low point: May regret overpromising. He pledged a non-toxic environment strategy that “needs to go beyond” what the outgoing Commission proposed and an update of air pollution standards in line with World Health Organization recommendations. Those would need the approval of the entire College of Commissioners — no easy task for a newbie.

Virginijus Sinkevičius was well prepared, often citing facts and figures | Oliver Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Key quote: “This mandate will be the greenest that Europe has ever seen.”

Verdict: Smooth sailing. Sinkevičius was well prepared, often citing facts and figures, and his bold ambitions impressed MEPs. Within hours they gave him the green light.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Elisa Ferreira (Cohesion & Reforms, Portugal)

High point: Ferreira decided to address concerns about potential conflicts of interest head-on. She said she’d abstain from EU funding decisions which could directly or indirectly impact the personal interests of her husband, who works for a regional development body.

Low point: Couldn’t give a clear answer on where the money will come from for a Just Transition Fund, meant to ease the move to green energy for countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Ferreira’s hearing ended with a long round of applause from MEPs from across the political spectrum | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “You will be hearing from us soon, with a Commission proposal in the first 100 days” on that transition fund.

Verdict: Ferreira’s hearing ended with a long round of applause from MEPs from across the political spectrum, showing she enjoys broad support. She may not have had all the answers but they liked her nonetheless.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Maroš Šefčovič (Vice President for Interinstitutional relations & Foresight, Slovakia)

High point: “As an expert on foresight, you already know what I’m going to say … What will I have for dinner?” asked Green MEP Nico Semsrott, a satirist by profession. “It’s true, some of my colleagues have been asking me if I can tell them what will be the next Lotto numbers,” Šefčovič quipped back.

Low point: Šefčovič struggled to defend his boss Ursula von der Leyen’s plan for a “one in, one out” policy to limit the volume of EU legislation — something MEPs said could reduce consumer and environmental protections. “The European Union isn’t a nightclub,” German MEP Tiemo Wölken said.

Maroš Šefčovič made sure to hit the right notes to fuel Parliament’s ambitions | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: Šefčovič pledged a “special partnership” with the European Parliament that includes “a new right of initiative, which I know is very important for you.”

Verdict: A smooth opening act in which Šefčovič made sure to hit the right notes to fuel Parliament’s ambitions.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Paolo Gentiloni (Economy, Italy)

High point: “I shall defend to the hilt the cause of Europe,” the former Italian prime minister said in closing remarks that put an exclamation point on his overall approach: show gravitas and present himself as someone able to put aside nationality.

Low point: Asked about his assets — property including four apartments plus €620,000 of securities — Gentiloni turned slightly defensive, perhaps not in tone but in words. “I wasn’t rich by any means,” he said and offered a joke that didn’t quite land about how Italian media had inflated his holdings into “the portfolio of a millionaire.” But he said he’d sold off his stocks, which had included more than €100,000 in Amazon shares.

Paolo Gentiloni showed a deft hand in signaling to both sides of Europe’s north-south divide |Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I want to be very clear on this, crystal clear, if possible. I’m not and I will not be the representative of a single government in the Commission.”

Verdict: Put the issue of national loyalties to bed from the start, with a mix of high rhetoric about European ideals and some skillful bureaucratic misdirection. Also showed a deft hand in signaling to both sides of Europe’s north-south divide, calling for a shared unemployment program while pledging no “permanent transfer from country to country” of funds.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nicolas Schmit (Jobs, Luxembourg)

High point: Schmit assured Nordic MEPs that a minimum wage framework he plans to put forward “rapidly” won’t undermine their collective bargaining systems.

Low point: British MEP Matthew Patten accused Schmit of failing to address discrimination in the labor market. The bloc’s motto may as well be, “united in diversity, as long as you’re white,” Patten said.

For Nicolas Schmit this was an easy game | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “No country should be allowed to use social dumping for its own workers. That flies in the face of the European spirit.”

Verdict: For Schmit, a longtime employment minister turned MEP in Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, this was an easy home game.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jutta Urpilainen (International Partnerships, Finland)

High point: “Eradication of poverty is at the center of our work,” Urpilainen told legislators. That likely came as a relief to many development advocates, who fear development funding will be hijacked for other policy priorities, such as migration.

Low point: There wasn’t really one in what was a low-key hearing.

Jutta Urpilainen flew through her friendly hearing, finishing half an hour ahead of time | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I see that we need to invest more in Africa, and we need to have [the] private sector to be part of that approach.”

Verdict: The former Finnish finance minister flew through her friendly hearing, finishing half an hour ahead of time.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Margaritis Schinas (Vice President for Protecting our European Way of Life, Greece)

High point: Schinas deftly deflected concerns about his job title. After three hours of questions, it was even a subject for humor. Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who co-chaired the hearing, joked that “working this late is definitely not in line with the European way of life.”

Low point: For those who tuned in for answers on the EU’s plans to fight disinformation and digital threats, Schinas’ hearing was a disappointment — with no mention of fighting hybrid threats, cybercrime or other security threats.

The hearing of Margaritis Schinas was a smooth operation | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “The job I am entrusted to do is one that has never existed before. It is a new job,” Schinas said. “Although the job is new, the problems are old, and they are deeply rooted.”

Verdict: Smooth operation. All the communication skills of the Commission’s former chief spokesman were deployed to defuse arguments over his job title and win confirmation.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Middle of the road

Johannes Hahn (Budget & Administration, Austria)

High point: Auditioning for his third term as a commissioner, Hahn made the most of his strong relationships with MEPs, noting many in the room already have his mobile number.

Low point: He struggled to answer the question of how the new Commission will finance its ambitious policy pledges, in particular on climate.

MEPs were not always convinced by Johannes Hahn’s replies, but were nonetheless impressed by his years of experience | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “It would be not serious if I give you a promise about a certain percentage,” Hahn told MEPs when discussing the size of the future EU budget. Not a great soundbite but smart — as that figure will be the subject of bitter debate among member countries.

Verdict: MEPs were not always convinced by Hahn’s replies, but were nonetheless impressed by his years of experience, directness and knowledge of topic area.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Josep Borrell (EU high representative for foreign affairs, Spain)

High point: (For Borrell, anyway. Not for Parliament as a watchdog.) Getting a round of applause for stopping to drink some coffee before giving his closing statement.

Low point: Coming under repeated questioning over his financial affairs, including a fine for insider trading. Borrell repeatedly insisted he had not deliberately done anything wrong and suggested the timing of the controversial share sale was an unfortunate accident.

Josep Borrell was always unlikely to face a rough ride | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I believe that borders are the scars that history left engraved on the skin of the earth, has etched with blood and fire, and that the progress of humanity consists in overcoming borders.”

Verdict: As a former president of the Parliament, Borrell was always unlikely to face a rough ride. Assured but not dazzling display.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Margrethe Vestager (Executive Vice President for Europe fit for the digital age, Denmark)

High point: When told by Brexit Party MEP John Tennant that he was looking forward to Britain’s departure from the EU so the country could gain greater sovereignty (particularly over its tax dealings) but that she should “carry on,” Vestager quipped: “I don’t share your views, but I appreciate your good wishes.”

Low point: Vestager did not provide convincing replies to MEPs asking about how she would manage her two hats, as executive vice president for digital affairs and also competition chief. There are worries she can’t be Europe industry’s coach and referee at the same time. She kept repeating that “the independence in law enforcement is non-negotiable,” but conceded the issue would require “some care.”

Margarethe Vestager is barely changing portfolio and she already had first-hand experience of what confirmation hearings are all about | Aris Oikinomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I will do my best in the second season.” (In a reference to the hit Danish political TV drama “Borgen,” which she reportedly inspired.)

Verdict: Good but not wow. Vestager is barely changing portfolio and she already had first-hand experience of what confirmation hearings are all about. Not a standout performance from the nominee — or her remarkably tame audience.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Věra Jourová (Vice President for Values and Transparency, Czech Republic)

High point:  Striking a balance between the work of the current Commission on rule of law and making clear she’d do things her own way. Managed to pay respect to current rule-of-law supremo while also making clear she wouldn’t just be Timmermans II.

Low point: Jourová struggled with questions about threats to journalists coming from their own national governments inside the EU, admitting that there’s not much the Commission can do to help: “This is a very difficult question, and I will not pretend that the European Union is equipped with strong legislative or executive power in these cases.”

Věra Jourová’s performance, in which she also struggled to keep to time, did not wow those expecting more innovative and substantive ideas  | Stephae Lecocq/EPA-EFE

Key quote: Pledging to make tech platforms more accountable for the content they carry. “The e-commerce directive is still a very strong legislation, which says that platforms are not responsible for the content … And we will have to look at this to see if we need a stronger push to increase the responsibility,” she said. “I am convinced that we need such a push.”

Verdict: The veteran commissioner’s performance, in which she also struggled to keep to time, did not wow those expecting more innovative and substantive ideas on improving transparency, protecting European democracy and enforcing the rule of law.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Valdis Dombrovskis (Executive Vice President for an Economy that Works for People, Latvia)

High point: Dombrovskis delivered a clear pledge to introduce legislation for the virtual currency backed by Facebook — calling out Libra by name, with no hedging about commissioning studies, convening expert panels or plotting roadmaps.

Low point: Right-wing Slovak MEP Miroslav Radačovský devoted part of his question time to name-checking a businessman from his hometown and voicing hope that more people from eastern Slovakia would make it to the Parliament.

Valdis Dombrovskis was successful in his mission of displaying a steady grip on his familiar subjects of finance and economics | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “We’ll need to regulate Libra to supervise it on EU level both from the point of financial stability and the protection of investors.”

Verdict: The candidate was focused, crisp, detailed — and successful in his mission of displaying a steady grip on his familiar subjects of finance and economics. But his nearly three hours of reciting directives and action plans lacked something: any sense of drama or other entertainment value, at least beyond eastern Slovakia.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Mariya Gabriel (Innovation and Youth, Bulgaria) 

High point: Her smooth, uncontroversial confirmation.

Low point: Dodging a question on how to ensure research investments go to green tech. And the hugs and kisses with MEPs after the hearing, which suggested Parliament had hardly acted as much of a watchdog.

Love was definitely in the air as Mariya Gabriel, a former MEP, returned to the European Parliament | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I’m clearly on the side of the European Parliament … I support increasing the budget for Horizon Europe [research funding]. it’s not an item of spending but investment.”

Verdict: Political equivalent of a three-star romcom. Love was definitely in the air as Gabriel, a former MEP, returned to the European Parliament.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Janez Lenarčič (Crisis management, Slovenia)

High point: Lenarčič claimed to have the answer to the famous question attributed to Henry Kissinger: “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” To applause and laughter at the end of his hearing, he held up a piece of paper with the number of the EU’s emergency response center.

Low point: Didn’t really face one in a low-key hearing. Lowest point for observers was when one MEP delved deep into the EU jargon bag and came out with the “external action cluster.”

Solid, unspectacular performance by a career diplomat, Janez Lenarčič ,who’d clearly done his homework | Oliver Hoslet/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “It is a noble mission, it is a way to show the best face of Europe around the world,” Lenarčič said of his new post. “Solidarity is something that people don’t think about until the moment they need it. And then they remember it. Forever.”

Verdict: Solid, unspectacular performance by a career diplomat who’d clearly done his homework. Hardly the toughest of grillings — it’s hard to be against humanitarian aid.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Ylva Johansson (Home Affairs, Sweden) 

High point: No standout moment but the former minister was able to reassure some who feared she was too leftwing.

Low point: Her reluctance to share details on how she wants to reform EU asylum policy. That earned her the nickname of the “comeback commissioner” from Portuguese MEP Paulo Rangel, as she kept promising to come back with answers later. Her vagueness meant she was required to answer additional written questions.

Perhaps it’s understandable that Ylva Johansson didn’t want to share details on her ideas for reforming EU asylum policy | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I have been tackling and cracking tough nuts before in my political career.”

Verdict: Perhaps it’s understandable that she didn’t want to share details on her ideas for reforming EU asylum policy, given the sensitivity of the subject. But this leaves an open question: Does she actually have a plan?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Strugglers

Kadri Simson (Energy, Estonia)

High point: A tweet by Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas during her hearing, saying her home country is now on board with an EU-wide climate neutrality goal of 2050. That helped burnish Simson’s climate credentials, which were under fire from Green MEPs attacking Estonia’s reliance on shale oil.

Low point: Simson’s nervousness and hesitation made her unable to give MEPs clear answers on a number of questions.

For environmental NGOs, Kadri Simson’s performance was “alarmingly weak” | Aris Oikinomou/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I can closely cooperate with member states, and motivate them to raise their targets.”

Verdict: Underwhelming. For environmental NGOs, Simson’s performance was “alarmingly weak.” She made it through confirmation but will still need to prove she’s up to the job.

Rating: ⭐⭐ 1/2

Dubravka Šuica (Vice president for democracy and demography, Croatia)

High point: She showed she knew her audience by wishing French MEP Pascal Durand a happy birthday after he asked her a question. That prompted a smattering of applause.

Low point: Rambling closing remarks in which she admitted to MEPs that she hadn’t really focused much on the topics in her new portfolio until she was nominated a few weeks ago.

Dubravka Šuica had a shaky showing, but enough to win confirmation to a post that’s unlikely to be key in the new Commission | Oliver Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Key quote: “I think that someone’s private beliefs are not relevant to their job.” (When questioned about her views on abortion.)

Verdict: Shaky showing, but enough to win confirmation to a post that’s unlikely to be key in the new Commission. Durand described her as “just sufficient but hardly inspiring” — and that was after she’d wished him a happy birthday.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Janusz Wojciechowski (Agriculture, Poland)

High point: In his second hearing, he won a warm round of applause for choosing to speak in Polish, after struggling in English in the first session.

Low point: After the agonizing first hearing, when lawmakers were invited to applaud, they remained silent.

Janusz  Wojciechowski came across as vague and overly keen to give answers that pleased everyone | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Key quote: “I was raised on a farm!”

Verdict: Wojciechowski came across as vague and overly keen to give answers that pleased everyone, but the lawmakers knew that he had experience in agriculture and feared that Poland could send a worse candidate if he were rejected.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Sylvie Goulard (Internal market, France)

High point: Solid on policy but that didn’t count for much, in two hearings.

Low points: Too many to give all of them a mention. Faced repeated questions about an investigation into possible misuse of EU funds for payments to a Parliament assistant, and about her highly paid side gig with a U.S think tank. “How many French people earn €13,000 for making phone calls?” asked Virginie Joron, from the French far-right National Rally. Lowest point of all was her rejection by Parliament’s internal market and industry committees on Thursday.

Key quote: “I am clean.” (from her first hearing)

Many MEPs, especially those from the European People’s Party, seemed to have decided from the start that Sylvie Goulard was going down | Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Verdict: Emmanuel Macron’s pick was unconvincing, but she may also have been doomed before she entered the room. Many MEPs, especially those from the European People’s Party, seemed to have decided from the start that she was going down.

Rating: ⭐

POLITICO’s Statlers and Waldorfs: Jacopo Barigazzi, Lili Bayer, Hannah Brenton, Hanne Cokelaere, Cristina Gonzalez, Laura Greenhalgh, Andrew Gray, Anca Gurzu, Jakob Hanke, Melissa Heikkilä, Laura Kayali, Thibault Larger, Christian Oliver, John Rega, Eline Schaart, Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Marion Solletty, Paola Tamma, Sarah Wheaton.

Johnson and Varadkar hold ‘constructive’ Brexit discussion

LONDON — Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar held a “detailed and constructive discussion” on the details of the U.K. government’s latest proposal for a Brexit deal.

The meeting, which took place at lunchtime in the village of Thornton Hough on the Wirral, was widely seen as Johnson’s last push for a deal ahead next week’s European Council summit where he must make dramatic progress if he is to meet his self-imposed deadline for pulling the U.K. out of the EU by October 31.

Prior to the meeting, the Irish gave Johnson’s proposals — which envision setting up a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. — a frosty reception. The plan appears to have been widely rejected by the EU.

However, speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Varadkar said that following a “very positive and very promising” meeting it is now possible for both parties to strike a deal by the “end of October.”

“I do see a pathway towards an agreement in the coming weeks,” he said.

The Irish prime minister added that negotiations needed to continue to ensure that any long-term arrangement that applies to Northern Ireland has the consent of its people and that there is no customs border on the island of Ireland.

Varadkar said it was possible to reach a deal by the European Council summit, but warned “there was many a slip between cup and lip.”

Earlier this week, Varadkar had said Johnson’s new proposals “fall short in a number of aspects.”

Downing Street said in a statement after the meeting that both leaders believe a deal is in everybody’s interest.

“They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal,” a spokesperson said. “They agreed to reflect further on their discussions and that officials would continue to engage intensively on them.”

An official said the Irish delegation emerged from the talks with a sense that more progress had been made than expected. U.K. and Irish officials will now both brief Barnier’s Brexit taskforce on the substance of Johnson and Varadkar’s discussion, with both sides cautiously hopeful they can form the basis of new negotiations.

Ahead of the meeting, U.K. officials said the best outcome would be for the Irish to emerge from it prepared to urge the EU to engage anew with the U.K.’s proposals, allowing talks to enter “the tunnel” — an intensive phase of closed-door negotiations with a view to a substantive outcome, as opposed to the technical but somewhat directionless discussions of recent days.

It was not initially clear what new proposals have been put on the table by either side, but the change in mood from Irish officials strongly suggests there has been movement from the U.K side at least.

The U.K.’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will continue talks Friday morning at a meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

This story has been updated with additional details.

A Brexit deal is still possible: Here’s how

LONDON — Over the past 24 hours hopes of a Brexit deal look to have faded. The two sides are as far apart as they have ever been.

Last week, the U.K. government finally put forward concrete proposals for changes it wants to the provisions ensuring there is no hard border on the island of Ireland — the so-called backstop. These came far too late and seem to have been widely rejected by the EU. Both sides have doubled down on their red lines and upped the blame game.

Yet in the U.K. Cabinet and in governments across the EU, there remains a strong desire to see a deal.

Despite the noise, there is still a very narrow path to a deal which both sides might be able to live with. But doing so requires compromise, pragmatism and flexibility — qualities which both sides have lacked at points over the past three years. Even this path will likely prove too much of a compromise, given Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to pull the U.K. out of the European Union by October 31.

This is not my ideal outcome but simply a route to a deal based on both sides’ position in recent weeks. For this reason, I will take the latest U.K. proposals as the starting point.

There are two major challenges with the U.K.’s proposals: the mechanism designed to give Northern Ireland a say and the viability of the customs solution.

Let me start with the positives, which should be acknowledged by the EU side. The U.K. has recognized that Northern Ireland aligning with EU rules and regulations on agrifood and industrial goods will likely need to be part of any solution.

The U.K. has also focused in on the Northern Ireland backstop — the mechanism designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — and, by definition, accepted the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s team.

However, there are two major challenges with the U.K.’s proposals: the mechanism designed to give Northern Ireland a say and the viability of the customs solution.

Northern Irish consent

The U.K. rightly argues that asking Northern Ireland to indefinitely accept rules and regulations over which it has no say is both undemocratic and risks falling foul of the careful balance struck in the Good Friday Agreement.

Boris Johnson’s plan has given Arlene Foster’s DUP a critical role | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

However, Johnson’s plan goes too far the other way. By allowing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), thanks to its role in any Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, an essential veto over whether the alignment on agrifood or industrial goods regulation ever comes into force and a veto every four years thereafter, a clear imbalance is created. Indeed, the default if the DUP do not agree will be to revert to a no-deal situation on the island of Ireland, raising the prospect of a hard border. This means continuous DUP approval is needed.

Moreover, the consent process only applies to certain parts of the new draft of the Northern Ireland Protocol — agrifood and industrial goods regulation, not customs and VAT.

Fortunately, these problems are far from insurmountable. Fundamentally, it is hard for the EU to disagree with some form of consent.

In seeking to find a solution to this problem it is worthwhile, as always, returning to the approach taken in the Good Friday Agreement, which provides for a check on consent if at any point in the future it looks as though both communities no longer support the status quo. Importantly, it ensures no single party in Northern Ireland has a veto.

We can apply this principle again here. Rather than being a continuous process of “opting-in,” there should be a consent mechanism which triggers an “opt-out” of the arrangements for Northern Ireland if, at some point in the future, they no longer enjoy support across the nation.

This would shift the default from being a no-deal scenario. It would provide for a trigger point to begin a new negotiation to find a way to address the unique circumstances regarding the border on the island of Ireland at some point in the future and would function as an exit mechanism, not holding Northern Ireland to EU standards indefinitely.

Furthermore, this principle of consent should be expanded to all aspects of the deal relating to the Irish border.

This could be done either via a referendum or through the Northern Ireland institutions (the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly). Both are legitimate, though I believe utilizing the institutions provides the most sensible route, demonstrating the validity and power of these institutions while avoiding setting a precedence of referenda in Northern Ireland which could have unintended consequences.

Of course, these institutions are currently suspended following a government breakdown and so a referendum could provide a fallback option if they are not up and running again in time.

Furthermore, this principle of consent should be expanded to all aspects of the deal relating to the Irish border. Far from being a hinderance to either side, a fair and balanced consent mechanism could provide a way through the second and far more difficult challenge: customs.

Stuck on customs

Finding a way through the customs issue will require both sides to bend red lines.

The U.K.’s current proposal essentially sees customs checks taking place away from the border on the island of Ireland and has four key problems, which are now fairly well reported. First, it requires significant exemptions from EU law on customs procedures, something which the EU has previously rejected due to the precedent it would set and because they believe it could undermine the integrity of the single market and customs union.

Second, this would be further exacerbated by a wider exemption for small and medium sized businesses from customs processes altogether.

Third, the proposal would mark a significant shift to the way of life on the island of Ireland and create huge administrative burdens and costs for business on both sides. That is why the proposals have been roundly rejected by businesses in Northern Ireland.

Signs point to an old customs and excise area on October 1, 2019 on the border between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in the Irish Republic | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Fourth, the plan risks not fitting with international law. At a minimum it would require a renegotiation of the Common Transit Convention (CTC) to allow checks to take place away from the border and/or to avoid the need for the transit document checks to be done at a physical office. The previous U.K. government tried to negotiate this during its accession to the CTC but failed to do so, partly due to EU opposition.

Furthermore, depending on the exact implementation, there are valid concerns as to whether the proposals meet World Trade Organization and World Customs Organization rules regarding the necessary checks involved in customs procedures between different customs territories.

A compromise solution

Fundamentally this is not a technical issue but a political one.

As the history of negotiations in Northern Ireland demonstrates, it is almost always impossible to find a solution which meets the red lines of all sides. Any solution is usually a complex compromise which gives everyone something to hold onto but meets no one’s goals entirely. This time is no different.

First, both sides should agree a set of objective criteria on which any “alternative arrangements” for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland will be judged and make a legal commitment that their primary aim will be to secure such arrangements by the end of the transition period.

However, in the unlikely event that such arrangements cannot be put in place in time, both sides should agree that Northern Ireland will, as a fall back, remain in both the U.K.’s and the EU’s customs territory. This would need to be recognized in the legal text now, and would allow flexibility around when and where customs documentation and any physical checks need to take place.

The obvious place would be at entry points onto the island of Ireland such as ports and airports. This alone though would not be acceptable so needs to be supplemented by arrangements to minimize any checks on products moving from Great Britain for sale in Northern Ireland.

Given time is short, agreeing the legal text on all these points is unlikely to happen in time to allow the U.K. any hope of exiting on October 31.

There are two possible approaches here — both of which have already been worked on by the U.K. government. The first would be to adopt a “channels”-type approach not unlike systems that currently exist at airports, which would see goods destined for sale in NI going through a green channel while those for sale in Ireland would head to a red channel where necessary checks could take place. There would need to be significant increases in spot checks in the market to provide some assurance that goods being sold in Ireland have met all the necessary checks and requirements.

The second would be to adopt an approach which sees all customs procedures being completed up front but allows businesses that sell products in Northern Ireland to reclaim any differential in tariffs between the U.K. and EU. This would be similar to the New Customs Partnership previously proposed for the entire U.K. but purely on an island of Ireland basis, where it has a much greater chance of success (similar proposals have been put forward recently by the author and journalist Martin Sandbu).

Given time is short, agreeing the legal text on all these points is unlikely to happen in time to allow the U.K. any hope of exiting on October 31. However, the text could include legal commitments to the principles, and make clear the binding obligations on both sides to negotiate the detail during the transition period.

This will require the EU to relax its insistence that the text must be fully legally operational but it should remember that the deal as it stands already leaves many aspects to be worked out during the transition.

In reality, the exact details of how the dual customs territory is implemented in Northern Ireland is not in the end the most important part.  There would still need to be one final key ingredient for a deal — the expansion of the principle of consent.

Any approach would only hold so long as there remained support for it in Northern Ireland. This seems to me to be a statement of the obvious with which neither side could disagree. Of course, any solution will only prove to be enduring in Northern Ireland if there is cross community consent. As such, the consent mechanism set out above should also apply to the customs proposals.

Costs and benefits for both sides

This proposal requires compromises from both sides but also delivers benefits.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he’s committed to the U.K. leaving the EU from October 31, 2019 | Peter Summers/Getty Images

For the U.K. it would require an acceptance that it is not possible to agree legally operative arrangements for customs in the next 10 days. But it would set a clearer path to get to a workable system in future.

The price would be agreement by the U.K. that as a fallback, Northern Ireland could remain in both the U.K.’s and the EU’s customs territory. Crucially though this would now be subject to consent from Northern Ireland’s own institutions.

Under this plan, neither the U.K. as a whole, nor Northern Ireland, would risk being stuck in the backstop indefinitely. And the U.K. would be free from the first day after the transition period to agree new free-trade agreements with countries around the world.

I recognize this approach will be particularly difficult for the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) to agree to. But because Northern Ireland’s institutions will ultimately have the right to decide whether these particular arrangements are right for the country as a whole, this plan is consistent with the negotiating aims agreed in December 2017 and with the Good Friday Agreement.

Furthermore, it delivers the best of both worlds for Northern Ireland businesses, something sorely lacking in the current proposals, given it has good access to both the U.K. and EU markets.

In that way, it is not even the beginning of the end but it will at least be the end of the beginning.

From the EU perspective, such a solution has the potential to achieve the same objectives as the current backstop but through a different mechanism.

However, the EU may need to accept that not all the details will be finalized in legal text now. More importantly, they will have to concede that, at some point in the future, if consent is no longer forthcoming, there will need to be a renewed negotiation on how best to address the unique circumstances around the Irish border.

While this has been something they have rejected so far, the trade-off has now crystalized. The EU can either accept that this issue may have to be revisited at some undefined point in the future or it can gamble on a U.K. election that makes a no-deal Brexit much more likely.

Finally, for both, agreeing a deal will allow the EU to move on to other things. Further delay and an election may well not deliver any more clarity. Both sides are tired of this endless debate.

While I am not pretending that striking this deal will be the end — there will be many years of negotiations on the future relationship to come — it will allow the politics on both sides to move on and take some of the heat out of the debate by finally allowing the U.K. to leave the EU.

In that way, it is not even the beginning of the end but it will at least be the end of the beginning. That is the best we can all hope for at this stage.

Raoul Ruparel was the Prime Minister’s special adviser on Europe under Theresa May and has been directly involved in Brexit negotiations for the past three years.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Macron: Chance of Brexit deal to be evaluated by end of the week

French President Emmanuel Macron told Boris Johnson Sunday that the prospects of reaching a Brexit deal should be evaluated by the end of the week.

Macron and the British prime minister “spoke this morning” over the phone and Johnson presented his latest proposals, according to an Elysée official.

The French president “indicated that the negotiation should continue quickly over the next few days with [EU Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier’s team, in order to evaluate by the end of the week if a deal is possible, in accordance with the principles of the European Union,” meaning the integrity of the single market and stability in Ireland, the official said.

The call came after Johnson wrote in two British newspapers that the United Kingdom will be “packing our bags and walking out” of the EU in 25 days.

“The only question is whether Brussels cheerily waves us off with a mutually agreeable deal, or whether we will be forced to head off on our own,” the British prime minister wrote.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters on Saturday that “time is tight” to find a compromise before the European Council summit on October 17 and 18.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: index backlink | Thanks to insanity workout, car insurance and cyber security