Norway on Brexit fishing trip in Brussels

.Elisabeth Aspaker Europaminister Aspaker had Monday talks with the EU Council's brexitsjef Didier Seeuws.Brussel.Elisabeth Aspaker Europaminister Aspaker had Monday talks with the EU Council's brexitsjef Didier Seeuws.Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Ane Haavardsgatter Lunde / NTB scanpix

The positions are starting to harden before negotiations on Brexit. Europe Minister Elisabeth Vik Aspaker sees it as an attempt to eye up the enemy.

On Monday our Minister for Europe went  to Brussels to’ fish’ for information on the EU strategy towards the British.

After an informal meeting with Belgian Didier Seeuws, the president of the EU Council Working Group on Brexit, she is left with the impression that Brussels is now just waiting for the British.

– We are a little impatient all of us. However, signals from the UK are mostly absent, said Vik Aspaker to NTB.

Clear warnings

Lately, several European leaders have issued clear statements saying that a Brexit must hurt Britain. The message is that it should cost dearly to withdraw from the EU, in order to stop others tempted to go the same way.

– There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price to pay. Otherwise we will end up with negotiations that cannot end well, said French President François Hollande in a speech on Thursday.

According to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker , ‘EU must not let the Brits trample on everything that has been built in Europe’.

Vik Aspaker interprets these overtures as ‘trial balloons’ from politicians who want to see what reaction they get.

– For us who sit on the outside, it is impossible to know exactly what they’re thinking. But I believe they are testing each other out, she says.

Characterized by feelings

Stephen Booth, director of the think tank Open Europe, notes that negotiations are not pure business. It is politics.

– I think we are still fairly characterized by feelings. The EU’s view is that it must have consequences to exit the EU. But it remains unclear how it will end, said Booth to the news agency NTB.

The big question is how deep into the internal market UK will concede without giving up control over immigration and without having to submit to supranational bodies such as the European Court.

– The most important signal from Theresa May is that Britain will not go in for an “off the shelf” agreement like the Norwegian EEA solution.

What we have heard so far, suggests that Britain will enter into a bilateral FTA with the EU, says Booth.

– I think the UK will attempt to establish a free trade agreement that removes as many trade barriers as possible. The question is how politicized negotiations will become, he predicts.

Pending transition arrangements

Vik Aspaker says she cannot imagine that Britain will manage to negotiate a brand new trade agreement with the EU without a transitional agreement in place first.

– Britain is one of our most important trading partners, and we have the clear ambition to negotiate our way to good trade and political relations even when they are out of the EU. We have said that we want it to happen as quickly as possible.

But I think also the EU envisages transitional arrangements. It is hard to imagine that one could leave one day and then have a new deal done the next day, says Vik Aspaker.

We have got to put in place flexible solutions for Norway, she says.
– We will surely get some form of transitional arrangements, and it will be strange if the EEA was not part of these.


Source: NTB scanpix / Norway Today