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EU summit: Leaders agree to extend Brexit talks, defying London deadline 15.10.2020

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was willing to “intensify” negotiations, but said that the bloc was prepared for a no-deal scenario. The announcement came as EU leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels.

EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday at the start of a two-day summit to seek a way out of the Brexit impasse as the bloc remained divided over ambitious targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Although many discussions are set to be tense, the bloc’s 27 leaders were unified on one topic — Brexit.

In a joint-statement released mid-way through the summit, EU leaders called on the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible” and to budge on their red lines to make a post-Brexit trade deal possible.

They also agreed to extend trade negotiations, defying a Thursday deadline set by London.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had set a deadline of Thursday to decide whether to press ahead with the negotiations or opt for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Downing Street will now make that call at the end of the EU summit on Friday.

‘Negotiations aren’t over’

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday that he wanted talks with the UK to continue into next month. Speaking a press conference, the Frenchman said the EU still wanted a deal, but that it should be “a fair agreement.”

“The negotiations aren’t over,” Barnier said. “We shall remain available until the last possible day.” 

He added that he had suggested to the UK to hold further talks in London and Brussels over the next fortnight, and that he expected talks to continue for two or three weeks.

But his comments came as his British counterpart, David Frost, fired off a series of tweets that criticized EU leaders for removing a commitment to ‘intensify’ talks from a joint statement on Brexit.

Sources close to the negotiations told DW that Barnier’s team were unhappy at Frost’s social media broadside.

The Frenchman repeatedly said during his remarks to journalists that he wants to “intensify” and “speed up” talks with the British government.

“How elegant,” replied one senior EU official in response to questions from DW.

Brexit talks stumble over fishing rights

Barnier also indicated that the EU was willing to make a “reasonable effort” to find a suitable compromise on fisheries.

The emotive issue has hampered progress in the talks for months. France has led a group of eight coastal states seeking to keep the status quo, a position rejected by the British government.

Talks have hit a snag over the past few months over several key issues, including not only  access to fishing waters, but also rules on unfair competition and how to enforce any potential pact between both sides.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Britain that the EU wanted an agreement, but “not at any price.”

“It has to be a fair agreement that serves the interests of both sides. This is worth every effort,” she said.

She added that the EU’s lead negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, enjoyed the full support of the 27 leaders.

EU officials seek tougher action on climate change

While leaders were resolved in their Brexit response, talks over climate change are likely to be much more tense.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm that proposes legislation, wants to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. It forms part of the bloc’s goal to be climate neutral by 2050.

Diplomats in the Belgian capital say leaders will likely delay any decision until a similar meeting in December.

A group of 11 member states, including France, the Netherlands and Sweden, issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying they backed the 55 percent goal.

Poland, which depends heavily on coal, is bitterly opposed to the proposal. Von der Leyen said in September the new target would be “too much for some and not enough for others.”

Read more: Does the EU’s methane strategy go far enough?

World leaders agreed five years ago in Paris to keep the global warming increase to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F) by the end of the century.

Scientists say countries will miss both of those goals by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more: How successful are international climate efforts?

Heads of state and government are also set to discuss the bloc’s  next seven-year budget, the coronavirus pandemic response and the EU’s strategy for Africa over the next two days.

jf/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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