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Fishing row clouds view on ties between UK, EU

By CHEN YINGQUN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-11-13 07:23

The row over fishing rights between Britain and France, more weighted in symbolism than economics for both sides, may have spillover effects that complicate the broader implementation of the Brexit agreement, analysts said.

Sven Biscop, director of Europe in the World Program at the Egmont-Royal Institute for International Relations, a think tank in Brussels, said fishing rights are always a symbolic issue at heart, and that means emotions can easily be stirred up. "This is about more than economic interests," he said.

Britain's Brexit Minister David Frost and French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune held talks in Paris earlier this month but failed to resolve the row on fishing that has lasted for months.

While the parties have retreated from talk of trade sanctions, Beaune indicated the sensitivities when he said: "All options are still on the table".

Further talks on the issue are expected to resume in the near future.

The main sticking point in the negotiations is the interpretation of the post-Brexit deal on fishing rights. France said the UK has imposed tougher requirements for issuing fishing licenses to French boats, following the latter's departure from the European Union this year; the UK insists it has respected the deal.

Tian Dewen, deputy director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said fishing rights had been "one of the thorniest issues" in the Brexit negotiations.

"Although the Brexit agreement was reached, the conflict over the issue has not been properly resolved," he said.

For France, the fishing industry is important, and French fishermen have a big influence on politics and the conducting of diplomacy, Tian said. That means Macron, who faces a presidential election next year, needs to stand up for fishermen at this critical period, the scholar said.

For the UK, fishing accounts for only about 0.1 percent of its GDP, and fishing communities don't have much influence in national politics. But the British government wants to increase diplomatic pressure on France and present a tough stance to the EU in negotiating other post-Brexit disputes in the future, he said.

Positive sign

Tian said it is a positive sign that the UK and France are still willing to conduct dialogue, and the EU is trying to persuade them to compromise. Just how the dispute will be resolved remains to be seen, he added.

"The fishing rights dispute will harm the UK and France, but in the long term the UK will also have to properly manage its relationship with the EU member states as they are close neighbors and they will need to work together in the future," Tian said.

Biscop said that, from an economic viewpoint, Brexit was a huge mistake, and it is creating many difficulties for the UK. In foreign policy, the British government has chosen to closely align the country with the United States, but it has little influence on the decision-making in Washington.

"The UK would do better to seek a close foreign policy partnership with the EU again," he said.



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