Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 5 News List

EU says ‘miracles’ needed for progress in Brexit talks

AFP, TALLINN

The EU on Friday said that Britain needs a miracle to unlock the next phase of Brexit talks this month, as leaders discussed the post-Brexit reform vision of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The talks in Tallinn, Estonia, were supposed to be devoted to the digital future of Europe, but Britain’s departure from the bloc and Macron’s plans to reboot the union hijacked the agenda.

The youthful French leader has given new impetus to a year of European soul-searching after the Brexit vote, even as the bloc tries to sort out the nitty-gritty before Britain leaves in March 2019.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that there was next to no chance that the divorce talks would get far enough by the end of this month to move on to discussions on a trade deal, a crucial demand of Britain.

“By the end of October we will not have sufficient progress,” Juncker said as he arrived for the second day of the summit. “I’m saying there will be no sufficient progress from now until October unless miracles will happen.”

EU leaders are set to decide at a summit on Oct. 19-20 whether there has been “sufficient progress” on three key issues: Britain’s exit bill, the fate of Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

However, British Prime Minister Theresa May said there had been “very good progress” on the rights of EU expatriates, following a major Brexit speech she gave in Florence, Italy, last week.

EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier and British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis on Thursday wrapped up a fourth round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels, saying there had been progress following May’s speech.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said there was a “better vibe and a better mood” coming from the talks, but added that it was “still very evident there’s more work to be done.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU’s most influential leader, said there had been “progress” and praised “very constructive” talks with May after a short bilateral in the Estonian capital.

Estonia, which holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, bills itself as in the vanguard of the digital revolution and urged the summit to help promote tech in Europe.

At the digital talks, Macron called on skeptical counterparts to overhaul tax rules so that more of the profits from Silicon Valley giants, such as Facebook and Google, fall into Europe’s public coffers.

In a closely watched speech on Europe on Tuesday, Macron thundered against high-tech companies that had become the “freeloaders of the modern world.”

Juncker said the EU will propose such a tax next year.

Macron’s proposal was part of a wider vision that the 39-year-old president unveiled in a landmark speech in Paris, aimed at reviving a European project hurt by Brexit, populism and the refugee crisis.

“There’s a collective wake-up call that a leap forward is indispensable in Europe,” Macron said at the talks.

At dinner in the Estonian capital on Thursday, EU national leaders held a debate about Macron’s plans.

Merkel, whose backing Macron sees as key for his ideas, expressed her support for Macron’s new vision, giving a boost to the Franco-German alliance that must be strong to advance reform in the EU.

“There is a wide agreement between France and Germany when it comes to the proposals, although we must work on the details,” Merkel said.

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