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New EU-UK agreement is welcome but thorough scrutiny remains, insist lead MEPs 

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Foreign Affairs and Trade MEPs welcome the new EU-UK agreement as a good deal but demand proper parliamentary scrutiny powers and thorough access to information.

This morning (14 January), members on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committees held a first joint meeting on the new EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, intensifying the parliamentary scrutiny process of the deal reached by EU and British negotiators on 24 December.

MEPs welcomed the agreement as a good solution, albeit thin. A no-deal would have brought a disaster for citizens and companies on both sides, speakers emphasized. At the same time, they stressed that the parliamentary scrutiny of this deal must go beyond mere ratification, insisting on thorough access to information and a clear role for Parliament in the implementation and future monitoring of the agreement.

In addition, members also highlighted the importance of fostering a close dialogue between the European Parliament and Westminster on future EU-UK relations.

They regretted that many aspects, including the Erasmus programme, foreign policy, security and defence cooperation, were not included in the negotiations on the future partnership. Some expressed concern about the future for environmental standards, as the new UK emissions trading system has only been in place since 1 January without clarity on how to link it up with the EU one.

For all statements and interventions, you can watch the meeting again here.

Rapporteurs’ remarks

Kati Piri (AFET, S&D, NL) said: “Parliament’s red lines will continue to be central in the scrutiny process. I welcome the fact that the EU managed to secure a single, clear governance framework. This will allow EU and British citizens, consumers and businesses legal certainty about the applicable rules and will ensure robust compliance guarantees by the parties.

“At the same time, it is also important to be frank: we did not want or choose Brexit. So it is with regret and sadness that we acknowledge that this was the democratic choice of the British people. And sadly, the agreement itself falls far short of the Political Declaration that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself signed just months prior to the negotiations.”

Christophe Hansen (INTA, EPP, LU) said: “It is a very thin agreement. But I welcome the fact that there are no quotas and tariffs, and with that we avoided falling back to WTO rules that would have hurt a lot of our sectors, including agriculture and cars.

“I regret very much that the UK decided not to take part in Erasmus. This jeopardizes the future for 170,000 Europeans in the UK and 100,000 UK students in the EU. I also regret that future Geographical Indications are not covered, which is contrary to the Political Declaration.

“I would have liked that services were reflected somewhat broader in the agreement. Nevertheless, regulatory co-operation on financial services will be negotiated until March.

“It is important not to let the consent drag on forever. Provisional application is not the legal security that businesses and citizens deserve after all these years.”

Next steps

The two committees will in due course vote on the consent proposal prepared by the two standing rapporteurs to allow for a plenary vote before the end of the provisional application of the agreement.

In addition to the plenary vote, Parliament will also vote on an accompanying resolution prepared by the political groups in the UK Co-ordination Group and the Conference of Presidents.

Background

The new Trade and Co-operation agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January 2021. For it to enter into force permanently, it requires the consent of the Parliament. Parliament has repeatedly expressed that it considers the current provisional application to be the result of a set of unique circumstances and an exercise not to be repeated.

MEPs on the International Trade Committee held a first meeting on the new EU-UK deal on Monday 11 January, during which they promised thorough scrutiny of the agreement. Read more here.

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Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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Britain and EU at odds over bloc's diplomatic status in UK after Brexit

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Britain and the European Union are at odds over the British government’s refusal to grant EU representatives’ full diplomatic status in London after Brexit, write Estelle Shirbon and Elizabeth Piper in London and John Chalmers in Brussels.

An EU member state for 46 years, Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave, and completed its tortuous journey out of the bloc on 31 December, when Brexit fully took effect.

The BBC reported that the Foreign Office was refusing to grant the same diplomatic status and privileges to EU Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida and his team as it gives to envoys of countries, on the basis that the EU is not a nation state.

Following the report, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman: “The EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.

“It’s a matter of fact that the EU is a collective of nations, but it’s not a state...in its own right,” he said.

Under the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations, envoys representing countries have certain privileges such as immunity from detention and, in some cases, prosecution, as well as tax exemptions.

Representatives of international organisations whose status is not covered by the convention tend to have limited and less clearly defined privileges.

The European Commission, the 27-member bloc’s executive body, said the EU’s 143 delegations around the world had all been granted a status equivalent to that of diplomatic missions of states, and Britain was well aware of the fact.

“Granting reciprocal treatment based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is standard practice between equal partners and we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in London in a satisfactory manner,” said Peter Stano, the commission’s spokesman for foreign affairs.

Stano added that when Britain was still an EU member, it had been supportive of the diplomatic status of EU delegations.

“Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part,” he said.

A British government source said the issue of the EU delegation’s status was subject to ongoing negotiations.

Former US President Donald Trump’s administration lowered the status of the EU delegation to Washington in January 2019, but later reversed the decision and restored full diplomatic status to it.

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Michel Barnier awarded European of the Year Award by Irish European Movement

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Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier, was presented with European Movement Ireland’s European of the Year Award at an online award ceremony this morning (21 January). The European of the Year Award recognises and pays tribute to individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to developing the connections and relationship between Ireland and Europe.

Accepting the Award, Mr Barnier said, “It is truly an honour to receive the “European of the Year” award.” He said, “My team and I were particularly attentive to the concerns voiced by all the different parties and communities of Ireland and Northern Ireland [during EU/UK negotiations]. We travelled several times to Ireland and Northern Ireland, we went to the border, we walked on the peace bridge in Derry/Londonderry. Above all, we listened to and engaged with students, workers, business owners and rural communities. Because Brexit is first and foremost about people…The memories of the Troubles are never far away.

“I continue to believe that we have to be both patriotic and European – patriote et européen. The two go together. That is why preserving EU unity was so important throughout the Brexit process. The unity and solidarity between EU countries was visible at every step of our negotiations with the UK. Contrary to what many predicted at the time of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Brexit did not trigger the end of the European Union, but the strengthening of its unity…Together, we can build a Europe that not only protects but also inspires…A Europe that continues to make us stronger together. Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity.”

DUBLIN : 21/1/2021: Noelle O Connell, CEO and Maurice Pratt, Chairperson of EM Ireland hosting a virtual ceremony from Dublin to present Michel Barnier with the EM Ireland European of the Year Award. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

European Movement Ireland Chair, Maurice Pratt paid tribute to Michel Barnier, “Over a long and difficult period, Michel Barnier sought to protect and advance European interests and values while also working to maintain a close and productive relationship with the United Kingdom. The agreement which has been reached is positive. While issues remain, it has provided clarity to businesses and citizens. Also, and importantly, this agreement can be built upon, with a view to ensuring the EU and the UK have an ongoing, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship in the future. Ireland, as a proud EU member state with the closest relationship to the UK, has a role to play as a future facilitator in that process.”

Honouring Michel Barnier for his work to secure an EU-UK trade deal, Noelle O Connell, CEO of EM Ireland said, “This award recognises individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to developing the connections and relationship between Ireland and Europe. Promoting this greater engagement amongst the countries and peoples of Europe is something that Mr Barnier has pursued with distinction throughout his career. He has never wavered from his commitment to safeguarding, protecting and upholding the integrity and values of the European Union and in doing so has protected Ireland’s interests throughout the Brexit process.”

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