European chief negotiator Michel Barnier walks past a group of protesters in London on Wednesday.Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
With nerves on the surface in several European capitals and the calendar approaching December 31, Brussels and London face the final stretch of negotiations that aim to avoid an abrupt exit of the United Kingdom from the European market when the transitional period of Brexit expires. at the end of the year.
The European chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, met by videoconference this Wednesday with the representatives of the 27 EU partners and with members of the European Parliament to offer them the last hour of a haggling that approaches the outcome, without any of the parties dare to predict whether it will fall on the side of the deal or the side of the breakout.
"We are rapidly approaching a point of agreement or rupture," acknowledges an EU diplomatic source after the meeting of the European ambassadors with Barnier.
"As of today, it is not clear whether the negotiators will be able to overcome the differences that still exist in terms of guarantees of fair competition as of January 1 [between the two parties], the governance of the agreement, and fishing quotas." .
Impatience and unease is evident among European governments and community institutions, although Brussels insists that the economic damage from a disorderly relationship as of January 1 will affect, above all, the United Kingdom.
Several European delegations, in fact, have stressed to Barnier the need to maintain the negotiating objectives until the end, without giving an iota for the sake of an agreement in extremis.
France, in particular, has warned that it will not accept any pact that endangers its interests, with the access of European fishermen to British waters as one of the main demands of Paris.
"As we get closer to the end of the game, some countries are getting a bit nervous," says a European source.
He also assures that the objective of the meeting with Barnier has been, more than anything, "to calm the nerves of Paris and some other capital and guarantee that the European negotiating team, with Barnier at the helm, continues to defend European interests, including fishing interests" .
Germany, on the other hand, remains calm and continues to trust an agreement even if it is at the last minute.
The negotiations could get a definite boost, one way or another, next week.
Barnier has assured that the next few days will be "crucial" for the outcome.
The European Parliament, which must give its consent to the agreement, has also warned that negotiators have little time if they want the House to speak this year.
Parliament is considering convening an extraordinary plenary session on December 28 to vote on the agreement.
But he advises that he needs time to study the text and deliberate, so he hopes to have it "in a matter of days."