EU27 harden stance, Britain sounds defiant ahead of new deal talks

The EU and UK aim to agree a deal that would cover a raft of issues from trade to security to fishing to space and environmental cooperation.
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Updated 18 February 2020

EU27 harden stance, Britain sounds defiant ahead of new deal talks

  • The UK digs in its heels as the EU pushes for level playing field across a raft of sectors
  • Greece takes opportunity to demand repatriation of ancient artefacts held in London

BRUSSELS: The EU has hardened its stance ahead of negotiations on a new deal with Britain, which left the bloc at the end of last month, demanding fair competition guarantees that would “stand the test of time,” according to a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The draft of the negotiating mandate to be approved by the European Union’s 27 member states doubled down from an earlier version on demands that Britain adopt a level-playing field with the bloc on areas from state aid to labor and social standards.
The EU’s new position emerged a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit adviser said London would never be bound by the bloc’s rules and this was the whole point of its determination to leave.
“To think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing,” David Frost said in a lecture in Brussels. “That isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure – it is the point of the whole project.”
Britain left the EU at the end of last month, and the two sides are due to launch negotiations on their future relationship in early March.
They aim to agree by the end of the year a deal that would cover a raft of issues from trade to security to fishing to space and environmental cooperation.
The European Commission is negotiating from the EU side and national ambassadors of the EU27 states are due to discuss their updated mandate for the Brussels-based executive on Wednesday. It is due to get the final stamp of approval at a ministerial gathering later this month.
Changes from a previous version of the mandate included the strengthening of the so-called level playing field provisions.
“The envisaged partnership should include an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership, in so far as there are sufficient guarantees for a level playing field,” it said, adding they needed to “stand the test of time.”
The 27 would also demand similar clauses for international maritime transport and other areas, the document showed.
In a jibe at Britain, where the ancient Greek Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, are on display at London’s British Museum, the draft document was also updated to say: “The Parties should ... address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”
An EU diplomat said the line on cultural artefacts was proposed by Greece, with support from Italy.
The 27 also stressed more firmly in the latest mandate that they would be taking on their own any decisions on so-called equivalence that would allow access for British financial services to the bloc’s single market.


Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

Updated 6 min 8 sec ago

Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

  • The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead
  • Polls opened on Sunday and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said

BAMAKO: Mali held its long-delayed parliamentary election on Sunday despite an insurgency in its central and northern regions, concerns about coronavirus and the recent kidnapping of the main opposition leader.

The election, originally scheduled for 2018, has been postponed twice because of intensifying violence in parts of Mali where the government struggles to suppress jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead, promising to enforce additional hygiene measures to protect Mali's 7.6 million voters.

"The government will do everything to make sure this is the case," President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in the run-up to the election.
Mali had confirmed 20 cases of coronavirus as of Sunday morning.

Polls opened on Sunday at 0800 and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said.

There was no queue at one polling station, which allowed voters to cast their ballot while keeping the recommended distance from each other. Handwashing facilities were meant to be available, but the kits arrived too late for early voters.

"I voted without a problem, but the hygiene kit against coronavirus wasn't there," said 30-year-old driver Ibrahim Konare. "The priority for the new parliament should be the fight against insecurity and the eradication of coronavirus."

It was not clear how voting was going in the large areas of central and northern Mali that are effectively lawless and used by the jihadists as a base for attacks in Mali and into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mali's main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was ambushed last week while on the campaign trail in the northern region of Timbuktu. The attackers killed Cisse's bodyguard and took Cisse and six members of his delegation hostage. They have not been seen since.

The election will select 147 lawmakers for the national assembly, which has not had a mandate since 2018 because of the electoral delays.
Polling stations close at 1800 GMT with results due in the coming days. A second round is scheduled for April 19 in constituencies where no candidate wins a majority.

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