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Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, was ordered to establish a regulatory level-playing field as the price for any future relationship pact between Brussels and Britain. The Frenchman made it his priority to ensure the UK remained tied to the bloc’s competition rules and environmental and workers’ rights standards. But he has ignored that Britain was often considered a flag bearer for high standards when still a member of the EU. European sources said the UK was considered to have “gold-plated” many of the rules and regulations handed down from Brussels. Here are four areas blocking progress in the Brexit negotiations where Britain maintains higher standards than much of the EU.
Britain’s social standards are thought of as some of the best across the continent. For example, when it comes to workers being paid a minimum wage employees can expect a much more generous monthly salary in the UK.
According to the latest figures, the UK’s monthly minimum wage is €1,599 compared to the EU average of €934.
In the UK anyone on maternity leave is entitled to receive statutory maternity pay for 39 out of the 52 weeks they are entitled to be off work.
But in Europe standards differ from country to country, with only Bulgaria and Greece offering more weeks off with pay than Britain.
Under the EU’s Maternity Leave Directive, women have the right to a minimum of 14 weeks of maternity leave, of which two are compulsory.
In Belgium, the home of the EU, mothers can take up to 15 weeks maternity leave, receiving payment of equivalent to 82 percent of their full salary for the first 30 days and 75 percent for the remainder.
Other European countries offer similar or less in terms of maternity rights for expecting parents.
Brussels has demanded that its state aid rules are applied in British law as the price for any future free-trade agreement.
The Political Declaration calls for both sides to “prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages. To that end, the Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of State aid”.
But the EU’s opening position is much stronger, insisting the deal should “ensure the application of Union state aid rules to and in the United Kingdom”, with EU standards as a “reference point”.
Boris Johnson has insisted the UK would “not align” to the bloc’s rules when it comes to state aid.
While the EU has made hardline demands, historically the UK has been less prone to use state aid than other member states, such as France and Germany.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus across Europe, Brussels has relaxed its own state aid rules and allowed countries to pump in trillions of euros to help struggling industries.
While Germany makes up about a quarter of the EU’s GDP, it accounts for some 52 percent of the value of emergency coronavirus aid cleared by the Commission, according to its own data.
France and Italy share joint second place, each with 17 percent of the total allowed by the Commission.
Before COVID-19, the UK spent 0.4 percent of GDP on state aid, versus an EU average of 0.8 percent.
Germany, the EU’s richest economy, spent 1.3 percent, while France, the EU’s second-largest economy, spent 0.8 percent.
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Amid an effort by the EU to overhaul its green credentials, eurocrats have decided that all of the bloc’s future trade deals must contain strict environmental rules.
The two sides have agreed to “not to weaken or reduce the level of protection afforded by environmental laws in order to encourage trade or investment” as part of their future deal.
But this has led to suggestions from Brussels that the UK’s laws should evolve to match the EU’s ever-changing environmental standards.
The UK and EU have both, unilaterally, pledged to hit net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050.
But at a December summit, the European Council had to agree to the target without Poland.
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Warsaw, which is heavily reliant on coal, opposed the deal and was exempted from the statement issued by EU leaders after the gathering.
The UK has maintained higher environmental standards than most of its former EU partners.
According to the 2020 Environmental Performance Index, the UK is ranked in fourth place, behind Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Germany, Italy and France, the EU’s biggest economies, all ranked lower than Britain in the study that judged 32 key sustainability indicators.
It takes into account the latest data on air and water quality, waste management, CO2 emissions and other public health factors.
Michel Barnier has demanded a commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights in the overall deal in order to reach an agreement on police and judicial cooperation.
But in 2014, the European Court of Justice blocked a draft agreement for the EU’s accession to the ECHR.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled it as not compatible with EU because the ECJ must be the final arbiter of the bloc’s laws.
This means individuals cannot challenge EU laws and practices at the European Court of Human Rights in the same way they can challenge national laws and practices.
The UK is a signatory to the ECHR, while the EU isn’t after the 2014 ruling by ECJ judges.
According to the 2019 violation statistics, EU member states are more likely to be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights.
Rogue capital Hungary was slapped with 40 violations judgements while Greece racked up 24, France 19, Italy 14 and Poland 12.
The UK only received five for “judgements finding at least one violation”.
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