The EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement “won’t make significant progress” under the new French presidency of the Council of the EU, according to one Irish MEP.
France took on the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU at the start of this year, and will hold that position until the end of June.
Commenting on his expectations for the French presidency, Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher highlighted that France does not appear to be as keen on the trade deal with the South American trade bloc – which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – as other EU member states.
Speaking to EuroParlRadio last week, Kelleher said: “The French will be very much looking to renegotiate or reorientate the whole Mercosur Trade Agreement.”
According to the Fianna Fáil MEP, progress on ratifying the deal during the French presidency of the EU will be slow.
“I think the French are very much opposed to [the deal], and I don’t believe that it is going to make significant progress through the democratic process and the parliamentary process during the French presidency,” Kelleher argued.
However, while the French presidency of the EU may be good news for Ireland on the Mercosur deal, it may present challenges where the Northern Ireland protocol is concerned, due to the potential of a hardening of stances in both the UK and the EU, he noted.
According to Kelleher, this is complicated by the fact that, in the midst of its EU council presidency, France itself is set for a presidential election in April.
“That is the issue of concern from my perspective. The French presidency is also involved in national elections, and you have that continual ‘toing and froing’, in terms of one-upmanship between the UK and France,” he said.
The former TD and minister of state highlighted: “While they’re allies primarily, there’s always a rattling up of political rhetoric from time to time on both sides of the channel.”
He added: “Certainly, from that perspective, I would just be concerned that the protocol and relations on the island of Ireland and the relationships between Northern Ireland, Europe and the UK would get caught up in that.
So I hope that the European Commission very much keeps focus on trying to resolve the outstanding issues around the protocol to ensure that there is free movement of goods from Britain into Northern Ireland, and at the same time that the integrity of the protocol is protected so there’s no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Kelleher warned that a disagreement between France and the UK on an issue unrelated to Northern Ireland might impact their engagement on the protocol issue.
“You could have a dispute over fishing rights in the English channel between the French and UK governments, and we just do not want to get caught up in that political rhetoric,” he warned.