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The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart, David Frost, have been unable to reach a trade agreement in recent weeks. They disagree over access to UK fishing waters, a level playing field and the governance of any future deal, bringing negotiation to a standstill. Time is running out, as the UK intends to officially leave the bloc with or without a trade deal on December 31.
While EU figurehead and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for member states to prepare for a future without a UK trade agreement, some countries are concerned how their economies will fare post-Brexit.
For instance, around half of Ireland’s fishing catch takes place in UK waters — without a deal, the whole fishing industry in Ireland is under threat.
More than two-thirds of the bloc’s fishing catch belongs to Ireland and the UK, too, meaning this will have a knock-on effect for the whole of the EU.
According to the Irish Journal earlier this year, fishermen even fear an “unmitigated disaster” if there is no deal.
However, Ireland appears to have been offered a lifeline through Belgium.
Economist Richard Cantillon wrote in The Irish Times earlier this month that Ireland had teamed up with other smaller EU states to protect itself.
He explained: “Ireland is in line for a sweeter deal than expected after a €5billion (£4.5billion) fund for the countries and sectors hit by Brexit was added to a draft plan for the European Union’s next budget and recovery package.”
This is reportedly due to Ireland’s work “in tandem” with other smaller states to defend their interests within the European Union.
The article explained: “In this case the key ally was Belgium.
“Both countries had argued that they deserved a greater slice of the recovery fund than the initial calculations put them in line for, citing among other things that they would be disproportionately affected by Brexit as close trading partners of the UK.”
The European Parliament pointed out on its website (europarl.europa.eu) last year that Ireland is likely to be most affected by Brexit.
The website reads: “Currently many products are imported into the Republic of Ireland from the UK and therefore many products’ prices could increase due to tariffs.
“Supply chains are likely to get severely disrupted.
“In addition, the situation could affect exports.
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“In 2018, goods exported to the UK amounted to roughly 11.5percent of total Irish goods exports.”
Many argue the risk of reviving violence and tensions along the Irish border has also been increased by Brexit, as Northern Ireland will be leaving the bloc along with the rest of the UK while the Republic will remain with the EU.
According to The Irish Times, Belgium also assisted Ireland through backing its politicians.
The article read: “Belgian support was key to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe winning the Eurogroup presidency giving him a platform and potential to influence that will put Ireland at heart of debates about the future of the EU in a historic moment of change.”
This was a surprise, as Belgium was expected to back the Spanish finance minister Nadia Calvino.
Insiders told The Irish Times that the Irish candidate’s “keen appreciation for the challenge that Brexit poses to states that are geographically close to the UK” won over the Belgian vote.
Belgium, too, is set to be hit hard by Brexit as well as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown.
A central bank official told Euroactiv last March that Belgians would become significantly poorer if there is a “hard Brexit”.
Hand Geeroms, the bank’s senior EU policy adviser, explained: “The national bank estimates the economic cost of a hard Brexit at 0.9 percent of GDP.
“The most optimistic scenario gives a loss in purchasing power of 0.4 percent.
“The most pessimistic scenario gives a loss in purchasing power of 2.5 percent.
“This is the price Belgians will pay for a decision of the British people to leave the single market.”
A study by the University of Leuven released a report in June 2019 also claimed that Belgium — not Ireland — would be the worst hit EU country if there’s no deal.
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