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Following a working lunch with Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “Despite our best efforts and significant progress we and our teams have made over the past days on the three main withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today. These will require further consultation, further negotiation and further discussions. We stand ready to resume the negotiations with the United Kingdom here in Brussels later this week.” He added, “I’m still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council of December 15…I’m very confident that we will reach an agreement in the course of this week. ” May continued, “We will reconvene before the end of the week and I am also confident that we will conclude this positively.”
This came amid reports that a draft UK-EU agreement on the issue of Northern Ireland met resistance from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). A draft text on Northern Ireland read, “In the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be no divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.” The text was reportedly amended to refer to “continued regulatory alignment” instead of no divergence. However, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, said in a statement, “Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.” In an editorial, The Times argues, “Contrary to DUP claims, regulatory alignment is not the same as de facto membership of the single market. It is a fudge that gives all sides the leeway to move on to trade talks on which the long-term prosperity and stability of the whole of Britain depends after Brexit.” Theresa May is expected to hold talks with Arlene Foster today to allay concerns that Northern Ireland would have a separate status to the rest of the UK. She is also expected to return to Brussels later in the week for further UK-EU talks, ahead of the meeting of EU27 leaders next week on whether.
Separately, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier in the day. We did make substantial progress on a number of issues today.” He added, “It is very much in our interest to go to phase two. We can’t do this without a firm guarantee that there will not be a hard border in Ireland.”
Elsewhere, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday, “If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.” And London Mayor Sadiq Khan said, “Huge ramifications for London if Theresa May has conceded that it’s possible for part of the UK to remain within the single market & customs union after Brexit. Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and a similar deal here could protect tens of thousands of jobs.” Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar spoke to TalkRadio this morning about the latest developments on the Irish border issue.
RTÉ Evening Standard The Times
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill made it through its fourth day of committee stage in the Commons last night after debating amendments proposed by the Welsh and Scottish governments, both of which have criticised the transfer of powers currently held in Brussels directly to Westminster rather than to devolved Parliaments. The amendments put forward by Labour and the SNP were voted down with comfortable wins for the government on every vote.
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Ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers on Monday night, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, said that future integration will pursue two aims, “First, that it should advance the unity of Europe through greater convergence within the euro area and the wider Union. Second, that it should make the governance of the euro area more democratic and efficient at the same time,”.
This comes as the Commission prepares to unveil a package for the Eurozone on Wednesday aimed at making the 18 countries more resilient. The package will take into account ideas put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the creation of a Eurozone budget, finance minister and parliament, as well as the creation of a European Monetary Fund and a sovereign insolvency mechanism.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Moscovici said, “Frankly I don’t expect any major step forward from the Eurogroup tonight, because as you know member states are not totally aligned. And also there is no government in Germany, so there cannot be decisions at this time and we all know that.”
Meanwhile, Portugal’s centre-left Finance Minister Mário Centeno is set to become the next president of the Eurogroup after receiving the backing of a majority of the 18 Eurozone representatives by secret ballot on Monday. Centeno reportedly won a clear victory over his rivals from Slovakia, Latvia and Luxembourg, and will take over from current Eurogroup president Jerome Dijsselbloem who will step down in January after five years in the role.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the vote, the Portuguese minister said his presidency would focus on achieving a consensus between the Eurozone’s political and geographic families, and would aim to “reach across the aisle”. He becomes the first minister from southern Europe to hold the post, and the first representing a former bailout country.
The IHS Markit construction purchasing managers’ index increased to 53.1 in November, up from 50.8 in October, exceeding economists’ expectations of 51, with anything about 50 indicating expansion. Tim Moore, an associate director at IHS Markit, said, “UK construction companies experienced a solid yet uneven improvement in business conditions during November…Once again, resilient house building growth helped to offset lower volumes of commercial work and civil engineering activity.”
The leadership committee of the German Social Democrats (SPD) yesterday announced it would enter coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). SPD Chairman Martin Schulz said, “We will explore whether and how the formation of a government in Germany is possible,” adding his party would only join CDU and CSU in government “if a maximum of social democratic demands can be enforced.” Members of the SPD will be asked to vote on the issue at the party conference this Thursday, with Schulz having made the approval of the party membership a precondition for the commencement of coalition talks. Meanwhile, CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer expressed hope “that following the SPD party conference, we can move on to swift, sound and serious exploratory talks and then also coalition negotiations.”
The Belgian prosecutors reiterated yesterday their demand to extradite the Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont and four other members of the ousted Catalan government. A Belgian court is now expected to take a decision on the pending European Arrest Warrant issued by Spain on 14 December, only one week before the Catalan regional elections. Meanwhile, the latest poll by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) predicts that pro-independence parties might lose their absolute majority in the Catalan parliament. The pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) of ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras and the pro-unity Ciudadanos were the parties expected to win the greatest share of seats.