Friday, September 22

Brussels agrees to reduce controls and facilitate trade in Northern Ireland

Carlingford Inlet marks the border between Northern Ireland (left) and the Republic of Ireland.

Carlingford Inlet marks the border between Northern Ireland (left) and the Republic of Ireland.

The European Comission is willing to relax and reduce controls sanitary and phytosanitary products to which agricultural and animal products that enter from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are obliged, a British territory that after the Brexit is still part of the customs union and single market. With the new proposals put forward by Brussels, this commitment will mean that 80% of the controls to which most animal products that end up in Northern Irish supermarkets are subject – including minced meat products such as English sausages that caused tough confrontations before summer – will be eliminated as well as 50% of the paperwork derived from customs controls.

After months of anger and many tensions, with the threat from London included of unilaterally suspending the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol if it is not renegotiated, Brussels has agreed to introduce some changes in the application of the pact, a fundamental element to avoid the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland and protect the Good Friday Peace Accords. The vice president of the Community Executive, Maros Sefcovic, has been in contact with citizens, businessmen and politicians of Northern Ireland for the last few weeks, smoothing out rough edges and looking for a path that offers sufficient guarantees in Brussels – that Northern Ireland will not become the gateway to the EU for non-products. controlled – and at the same time acceptable in London.

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The results of this exercise are four documents with proposals aimed at facilitating the movement of goods and medicines and giving a voice to the Northern Irish in the management of the protocol. Although Brussels radically rejects renegotiating the agreement, because it understands that it is the result of three years of “complex” negotiations and would increase “uncertainty”, it is willing to open its hand. “I have listened and I have engaged with the actors of Northern Ireland and these proposals are our answer to their concerns,” announced Sefcovic, who will meet his counterpart David Frost this Friday in Brussels for a first examination of the texts.

Product labeling

Brussels proposes to relax the entry requirements that products must overcome to enter the port of Belfast, although in exchange London will have to accept stricter labeling rules -so that it is recorded that the destination is the Northern Irish market – and access to data in real time to ensure that the products do not end up in the single European market. Brussels also calls for the creation of a rapid reaction mechanism to possible problems with a product and the possibility of introducing unilateral measures in case the British authorities or companies do not react in time.

As for the simplification of customs controls, it will mean that trucks in transit with different types of goods will only have to make one declaration instead of one for each type of product they carry, which will cut paperwork in half. The package also includes measures to ensure the medicine marketing manufactured in Great Britain, without requiring new authorizations or relocation of facilities in Northern Ireland, and a greater role for Northern Irish actors in everything related to the protocol through a structured dialogue with the authorities, civil society and companies.

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CJEU, red line

What Brussels does not enter is the British demand to eliminate the supervision of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) as the last resort in case of disputes around the protocol, a red line that Brussels is not willing to accept. “The effect of the protocol is to extend the single market for products to Northern Ireland and this comes with the CJEU. If the CJEU is eliminated, access to the internal market will be eliminated. We do not think that is the way forward,” insist sources from the Executive community.

“We hope that the UK will commit in good faith. We believe that there is enough in this package to reach an agreement on how to apply the protocol,” they add on a package of proposals that will not be a ‘take it or leave it’ , but the beginning of a negotiation that they aspire to conclude as soon as possible. “The next steps will depend on how realistic the UK is, but I think both parties want to have an understanding by the end of the year on how the protocol should work,” they point out.

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