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January 22, 2020

Erdogan and European Libya diplomacy

Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows just how to get under the skin of Europeans. On Monday Erdogan provoked Italy claiming that Ankara was in talks with Rome about drilling off Libya in the maritime zone defined by the Turkish-Libyan sea border deal, which Greece and the EU had condemned as illegal. Rome had to put out a statement saying that Erdogan's claim of negotiations with Rome is unfounded.

In Berlin, Erdogan also lashed out against the Greek prime minister, who had invited General Khalifa Haftar for talks to Athens on Friday. Erdogan said that, by doing so, the Greeks seeked to provoke Turkey and they needed to correct their mistake. Naturally he completely ignored his own part in this multi-layered provocation game.

Athens made no secret that its wish to be involved in Libya was a way to get the Turkish-Libyan maritime border deal off the table. Haftar's visit and his official criticism of the maritime border deal was a way for the Greek government to demonstrate that they matter, even if they were not invited to the Berlin talks. Greece is now putting its efforts into the next stage of the Berlin peace process for Libya. Kyriakos Mitsoutakis and his foreign minister are expected to meet with foreign leaders and diplomats to insist that there can be no political solution in Libya without the Turkish-Libyan sea border accords being annulled first, writes Macropolis.

The outcome of the Berlin talks, meanwhile, did not impress Libya experts and twitter-sphere. A truce but no ceasefire; an arms embargo that is likely to hurt the prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj more than General Haftar; and a useless decision by EU foreign ministers to revive Operation Sophia, the EU's naval mission in the Central Mediterranean which had already failed to enforce an earlier UN arms embargo it was tasked with protecting. 

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January 22, 2020

On the importance of mutual recognition agreements in the Brexit trade talks

Peter Foster raises an important issue in the upcoming trade talks: the UK’s role in EU standard committees post-Brexit. It is unquestionable that one of the EU’s strongest powers is to set product standards with global reach. The UK has played an important role in this process in the past, in some sectors even the most important role within the EU. The architecture and networks of EU standard committee is complex, and their actions are usually not followed by the media. Standards play a huge role in any trade negotiations. 

Foster writes that the EU has adopted a punitive attitude on standards. The offer of co-operation with the UK is worse than what the EU has negotiated with Canada and Japan. The European Commissions says that UK bodies should no longer be allowed to certify goods for EU compliance post-Brexit. It is our understanding from conversations with industry that this is not an entirely realistic prospect, if only because many standards bodies are reliant on the expertise of their UK members. There is a lot of know-how in these committees that cannot easily be plugged or transferred, at least not immediately.

One of the chapters in a trade negotiation are the mutual recognition agreements that help facilitate the movement of goods across borders. In goods trade, even if the tariffs were removed border controls would still be necessary to check for compliance with EU standards. If the UK is outside the EU's standards framework, that would clearly constitute a degree of friction in the trade.

The EU will need to consider that this friction naturally could go both ways. The UK would then set its own standards in segments where standards are used to tilt the playing field in favour of an EU company. We recall that this was one of the bugbears for Dyson, the pro-Brexit vacuum-cleaner and hand-drier producer, who said that EU standards procedures were tilted to favour German producers.

Foster quotes an EU diplomat as saying that a removal of UK standards bodies from the EU procedures was intended to lock any access to the single market through the back door. It is naturally the case that the EU wants to protect the single market, but we see no reason why the EU and the UK should not be able to reach mutual recognition agreements. If the plan is to force the UK to accept EU standards unilaterally, there can clearly be no trade deal.

What this story is telling us that the upcoming trade talks are going to be difficult, especially if member states end up prioritising their own narrow mercantilist advantages over a stable future relationship with the UK.

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