BRUSSELS – The European Union finally sees progress in trade talks with the United Kingdom, but insists a momentary change in mood between the oft-bickering sides is no guarantee that an agreement will be delivered on time, officials said Thursday.
Both sides are negotiating against the clock to get a basic trade deal delivered by the end of the month so that it can be approved by legislators in time to meet an end-of-year deadline with a transition period in the wake of Britain's departure from the bloc.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants a deal already by the time the EU leaders hold a summit next Thursday while the bloc's nations feel there is time until early November.
“I would say that the mood appears to have changed," Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said when he hosted European Council President Charles Michel. “But the mood is one thing. It does need substance to follow the mood," he added, urging the negotiators meeting in London this week to speed up progress.
Michel acknowledged time was running out on a potential agreement that could save hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the English Channel.
“The coming days are crucial. This is the moment of truth," Michel said.
In diplomatic delegations in Brussels where member states eagerly follow the talks EU negotiator Michel Barnier has with his counterpart David Frost, there is the same sense of change in the air.
But they also acknowledged that on the three main sticking points — a deal that UK companies won't seek to undercut their EU counterparts with low-standard products and excessive state aid, rights of EU fisherman to British waters and the governance overseeing the agreement — the sides have barely moved.