EU eyes softening key state aid demand in Brexit talks — sources

Both sides still say they hope to avoid the most economically damaging “no-deal” rupture. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2020

EU eyes softening key state aid demand in Brexit talks — sources

  • The 27 EU countries have long demanded so-called “level playing field” guarantees from Britain
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government refuses to be bound by EU state aid rules

BRUSSELS: The European Union is willing to compromise to help break a deadlock in Brexit talks by softening its demand that Britain heed EU rules on state aid in the future, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
They said Brussels could go for a compromise entailing a dispute-settling mechanism on any state aid granted by the UK to its companies in the future, rather than obliging London to follow the bloc’s own rules from the outset.
Provisions to ensure fair competition pose the biggest stumbling block in the troubled talks aimed at sealing a new trade accord from 2021 following Britain’s exit from the EU in January after 46 years of membership.
The 27 EU countries have long demanded so-called “level playing field” guarantees from Britain if it wants to continue selling goods freely in the bloc’s lucrative single market of 450 million people — after Britain’s standstill transition period following Brexit expires at the end of this year.
Without an agreement, trade and financial ties between the world’s fifth largest economy and its biggest trading bloc would collapse overnight, likely spreading havoc among markets, businesses and people.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government refuses to be bound by EU state aid rules, environmental standards or labor laws, saying the essence of Brexit was to let Britain decide alone on its own regulations.
Both sides still say they hope to avoid the most economically damaging “no-deal” rupture.

Dispute-settling mechanism
“The room for compromise lies in something that will let the UK decide on its own since ‘regaining sovereignty’ is such a big Brexit thing,” said a EU diplomat close to the Brexit talks.
“We would reserve the right to decide on any consequences vis-à-vis access to the single market for UK companies as a result.”
Another diplomatic source said such a dispute resolution mechanism could be a way to overcome the impasse.
A third diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the EU was ready to ease its earlier demands that Britain agree to a “dynamic alignment” of its competition rules in the future with the bloc’s own.
The person said, however, Britain would still need to agree with the EU on a broad outline of company subsidies policy — rather than specific laws or cases — to allow the bloc to go for such a fix. EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly urged London to make its future plans on that known to the bloc.
“There must be a solid framework with independent oversight. If they agree to settle on broad rules for granting state aid and to have this independent institution, then we have a deal,” said the diplomat.


US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

Updated 18 September 2020

US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

  • Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives
  • It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in Beirut

WASHINGTON: Militant group Hezbollah has stored chemicals that can be used to make explosives in several European countries, a senior State Department official said Thursday as he appealed to countries in Europe and elsewhere to impose bans on the organization.
Hezbollah operatives have moved ammonium nitrate from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland in recent years and are suspected to still be storing the material throughout Europe, said Nathan Sales, the State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives. It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Sales, without offering evidence, said the U.S. believes that Iran-backed Hezbollah has since 2012 transported ammonium nitrate around Europe in first aid kits with cold packs that contain the compound. The United States believes these supplies are still in place throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy and Spain.
“Why would Hezbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil?" he said. “The answer is clear: Hezbollah put these weapons in place so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it or its masters in Tehran deemed necessary."
Sales made the remarks in an online forum hosted by the American Jewish Committee, which has called upon more countries to ban Hezbollah and its operations.
The US has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997, but some countries distinguish between the organization's military wing and the political wing.
The EU lists Iran-backed Hezbollah’s military wing as a banned terrorist group, but not its political wing, which has been part of Lebanese governments in recent years. Some individual countries, including Germany and the UK, have outlawed the group in its entirety. Sales called on more countries to do the same.
Hezbollah is a “unitary organization that cannot be subdivided into a military and so-called political wing," he said. Without a full ban, the group can still raise money and recruit operatives. “Hezbollah is one organization," he said. "It is a terrorist organization.”