EU on brink: Dutch MEP hints at Nexit amid brutal dressing down of Michel Barnier

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Brexit talks have dominated political conversation across Brussels, as the EU and UK seek a deal over their future trading relationship Yet another deadline passed on Sunday, with negotiators still unable to reach a consensus before the December 31 deadline. The European Parliament argued that if such an agreement was to be reached, it had to be done by December 20, in order to allow it to be ratified by both parties.

Both Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and his British counterpart, Lord David Frost, are continuing to discuss a deal in Brussels.

A decision over whether this can be reached or not is expected to be confirmed before Christmas.

An insider on the UK’s team, however, said a “substantial shift” was needed if a deal was to make it over the line.

The main sticking points in any pact remains over the so-called level playing field, and also over future fishing rights for those inside the bloc.

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The UK is adamant it will take back control of its waters, while Brussels – and nations such as France and the Netherlands – are deeply against such a move.

They claim the EU should maintain its current fishing quotas in British waters.

Fishing rights has become an arduous issue for both parties and even led Dutch MEP Derk Jan Eppink to demand Mr Barnier do more to protect the EU’s fishing industry – or face the consequences.

Mr Eppink warned that in the event of a no deal Brexit, a situation where both parties fail to agree a trade pact, the fishing industry across the bloc would be decimated.

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He detailed that should a pact not be reached, Mr Barnier would have “abandoned” the EU’s fishermen, leaving countries like the Netherlands considering their own future – and how best to protect their own fishing industry.

Speaking directly to Mr Barnier, he warned that the Netherlands would “support its fishermen at any price”, hinting that the Netherlands could one day move away from the bloc to secure its own deal on fishing.

The MEP told the European Parliament that while the likes of France could “get their fishing resources from all over the place”, the Netherlands was a “smaller country” that “need to try and preserve our opportunities when it comes to fishing”.

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The Dutchman added in October: “We will not abandon this national interest for us. It’s heavily anchored in Dutch culture and we need to support Dutch fishermen at any price.

“So bilateral negotiations, if there is a failure, need to remain possible.

“It’s true that we’ve had 400 years of conflict with the British, but we need to do better this time.”

The Netherlands’ relationship with the EU has steadily grown more difficult, particularly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation was accused by some inside the bloc of “going against the principles of solidarity” with states including Spain, after it refused to “give gifts” to other member states to support them through the pandemic.

In April, the Netherlands joined Austria, Denmark and Sweden in refusing support for Spain and Italy – two counties that were initially at the centre of mass Covid-19 outbreaks.

Those against the move included the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was caught on camera telling Dutch workers the country would not give financial support to Rome or Madrid.

The video sparked outrage among those inside the bloc, yet Caroline de Gruyter – a Dutch author – said the row was just another example of how the Netherlands was adopting a hardline stance against the EU.

She wrote in a report earlier this year: “Nowadays, many who remember the Dutch as engaged, enthusiastic Europeans are puzzled by the harsh positions on eurozone reform or the Covid-19 package coming from The Hague. But this is not new.”

She added: “Most Dutch love the internal market and are positive about EU membership, but many reject the political aspects of European integration. European defence, a common foreign policy, or European taxes make them jittery.

“Their first reflex is to oppose those things.”

And it would appear Ms de Gruter is right – the appetite for the Netherlands’ equivalent of Brexit – dubbed Nexit – is not a priority for the Dutch population.

The most recent polling, carried out by I&O Research in June, showed that 75 percent of Dutch citizens would vote Remain in a referendum on whether to stay in the EU.

The poll found that the remaining 25 percent would wish to Leave.

In fact, in the previous four years – since the Brexit referendum date and question was confirmed – the Netherlands has only seen one poll that favoured Leave.

This was in the days before the UK’s referendum on its EU membership, and saw 48 percent wish to Leave the bloc, 45 percent want to Remain and seven percent undecided.

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