The new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is going to London on Wednesday for her first official meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Undoubtedly, the main topic during their bilateral meeting is the negotiations on the future Euro-British trade relationship.
After a resounding election victory in December, the Johnson government is heading for a British farewell to the European Union on 31 January without any problems. The British then leave the EU, with a transition period until the end of this year in which virtually nothing changes. In those 11 months, an agreement must be reached on the (future) relationship in areas such as trade.
Experts consider it highly unlikely that this will work. The EU usually takes years to conclude such agreements. During that period, which Johnson does not want to extend, an agreement must be reached on the future (trade) relationship. Von der Leyen called it early in December "very challenging" to be able to close a deal in that time frame. If it doesn't work out, then a chaotic brexit threatens.
At the heart of the problem is the careful negotiation procedure needed: the EU countries will base their new trade agreement with the British on their current trade agreements. The 27 remaining EU countries will not want to be made worse by the British departure. The British, on the other hand, want either of these current EU treaties, and the more deviations the British want, the more there is to discuss.
In addition, in recent decades EU (both civil servants and politicians) have gained a great deal of experience in 'coordinating' and 'reconciling' disagreements between the EU countries, while it is now the case with the British negotiations must be about how much the British may deviate later.
The way it looks now, a new EU UK fishing agreement could become a major stumbling block. In any case, British fishermen want 'those foreign vessels (= competition) out of their fishing waters', while Dutch, German and Danish fishing fleets cannot do without.
Johnson insists that the deal must be closed before the end of 2020. If it doesn't work out, a chaotic brexit is still in danger. The negotiations will not be easy. Several EU heads of government have already drawn a red line. "If you want access to our internal market with your goods, you must respect our standards and rules," said Christian Democrat Manfred Weber, the president of the largest political group in the European Parliament.