Siim Kallas: UK to become one of many third countries

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Siim Kallas. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Boris Johnson's team is celebrating the agreement giving British goods customs- and quota-free access to the EU market. However, customs and quotas are trade restraints of the past. There is an uncountable number of new restrictions today overcoming which will be a major challenge, former European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas writes.

The history of the Brits leaving Europe is a long one. It began in the 1940s when the UK government led by the Labor Party's Clement Atlee decided not to participate in building up post-war Europe. The United Kingdom, one of three European victors, could have become the leader of Europe as Germany and France had been knocked down.

By then, the UK had lost its position in the world and the U.S. dollar had become the global currency. The Americans forced the Brits to open the empire's markets using to the latter's colossal war debt and costing it a major advantage. Had the Brits seen creating a new Europe and running it as a new opening, we would have a very different EU today. Would it be better? For the UK, definitely!

In 1955, a minister told continental Europeans: "You cannot agree on anything; if you do agree on something, you cannot ratify it; and if you can ratify it, you cannot execute it."

By 1963, the British government was convinced the country had made a mistake. Their motive for joining the European common market was not allowing rules that regulate trade and other vital sectors to be laid down without the Brits' involvement.

Remember this thought!

There is a plethora of standards, rules and norms in aviation safety. They are laid down in cooperation between two agencies – the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

The UK participated in shaping the norms as an EASA member. All they can do from now on is follow them. Compliance with aviation safety norms is meticulously monitored. It is but one example.

Boris Johnson's team is celebrating the agreement giving British goods customs- and quota-free access to the EU market. However, customs and quotas are trade restraints of the past. There is an uncountable number of new restrictions today overcoming which will be a major challenge. British products must meet European standards (food safety, environmental requirements etc.). They are the strictest in the world and the UK is no longer involved in developing them.

Goods of third countries, which is what the UK will become, have to overcome many bureaucratic hurdles to prove they meet European standards. I read an opinion piece by a respected British author who said that the European market was virtually closed to the UK. The devil is in the details or in this case standards.

Foreign trade is fully in the EU jurisdiction. The Brits are boasting how they will be signing lucrative trade agreements without the EU to bother them. I finalized the aviation agreement talks with USA when serving as EU vice president. The Americans won't surrender the paperclip holding together the text without a fight.

U.S. negotiators represent immensely powerful lobbies that monitor their every move. If you represent one of the world's three trade giants (USA, EU or China), you are negotiating as an equal. The others must simply accept the terms.

An agreement of 1,200 pages plus additional protocols etc. A good way to comment on it is to recall the words of EU negotiator Michel Barnier from a few years ago. "Finally understand – it is the British who are leaving. The EU is not going anywhere. It is not a mutual agreement between two equal parties but an agreement detailing the exit of the United Kingdom."

There is one aspect that was not negotiated, wasn't on the table.

It is the question of the UK's position in the world. The country ruled the world in the 19th century before ceasing to exist as a major power in the 20th. However, it remains one of five permanent UN Security Council members. And it has the atomic bomb.

The EU is one of three global economic giants and no longer a foreign policy midget. The UK participated in shaping that giant's policy and did so very influentially. From here on out, decisions will be made without the Brits. Did you remember why the UK wanted to join the EU common market in the 1960s? The United Kingdom will become one of many third countries on December 30.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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