European Commission paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland border hints that staying in customs union and EEA is the best option
After the third round of negotiations, chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier announced the publication of 5 position papers, including Ireland, on Thursday 7 September.
The EU commission paper is actually entitled “guiding principles”, while all the others are “position papers.” This reflects the stance that it’s up to the United Kingdom to come up with a solution.
“The onus to propose solutions which overcome the challenges created on the island of Ireland by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and its decision to leave the customs union and the internal market remains on the United Kingdom.”
Stressing repeatedly the wish that a hard border, including any physical infrastructure, should be avoided, it also underlines several times that the solution “must respect the proper functioning of the internal market and of the customs union as well as the integrity and effectiveness of the Union legal order.”
The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his government had a “big hand and a big part” in the drafting of the paper, which was “seeking to preserve the common travel area between Britain and Ireland and the effective common citizenship that exists between the two countries, protecting the gains from the peace process and also avoiding any barriers to trade on this island.”
The commission warns that the issue
“will require a unique solution which cannot serve to preconfigure solutions in the context of the wider discussions on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom”.
However, under Union law, this is only possible if the UK stays in the customs union and in the single market/ the European Economic Area.
Brigid Laffan, director of the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, an Irish national, tweeted:
Michel Barnier reiterated that “sufficient progress” must be made on the Irish issue, before a second treaty can establish future relations.
In a press conference on 7 September, he offered the option of “Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who have chosen to be part of the single market, to accept its rules, and who contribute financially to European cohesion. I also think of Canada, with whom we have negotiated a very ambitious free trade agreement, CETA. Canada is not part of the internal market. It therefore does not have these opportunities or obligations. Everyone understands that it is not possible for a third country to have at the same time the benefits of the Norwegian model and the feeble constraints of the Canadian model.”
As for the common travel area agreement, which predates both countries' EU membership, the European commission hints again that Ireland must be able to “honour its obligations as a European Union member state.”
These are rather obvious hints that the preferred solution for the Irish border is to have the UK in the customs union and EEA.
Northern Irish residents can currently still have either Irish or British or both citizenships, and both papers agree this should continue.
The European commission also wants the UK to “honour their commitments under the current multi-annual financial framework” in the context of the peace process, where the EU financially supports many programmes such as PEACE and INTERREG.