Emanuel Macron wants to secure the lion’s share of the so-called “adjustment fund” to prop up France’s northern coastal communities set to lose out on access to Britain’s fishing grounds. The French President’s hardline approach to secure almost the same opportunities in the UK for EU vessels has taken negotiations over the Brexit trade deal to the brink of collapse. Having already frustrated European colleagues with this stance, Mr Macron now risks infuriating them by pushing to seize control of the Brexit fund.
The cash pot was announced by European Council President Charles Michel to help countries adjust to Britain’s departure from the bloc’s single market and customs union.
“Certain member states began to see this whole fund as a sort of fish compensation fund,” an EU diplomat said.
“Almost exclusively for fish, and almost exclusively for France.”
An EU official told the Irish Times: “Lots of countries are eying up that fund.
“France are looking to dip into the fund. It will be a lively debate between member states and the Commission.”
Mr Macron faces his second presidential election in 2020 with northern coastal communities set to be one of the key battlegrounds.
Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen is expected to weaponise the possibility of French fishermen losing access to their traditional waters in a bid to unseat her rival.
The European Commission is currently drawing up plans to distribute the cash to the countries most impacted by Brexit.
But lobbying by member states is expected to sway the opinion of eurocrats working on the project.
Ireland is pushing for broad rules on how the money can be used, to allow Dublin to prop up multiples sectors across the economy hit by the end of the transition period.
Belgium and the Netherlands are also expected to be hit hard because of their close geographical proximity to Britain.
The fund could be dramatically changed in size if a Brexit trade deal is secured before the end of the year.
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An EU source said: “The British are frankly laughing at us; time is very short. If nothing moves in London we risk going towards no deal.”
PM Mr Johnson told the Commons the EU was refusing to accept the UK’s status as an independent coastal state, adding: “Our position on fish hasn’t changed. We’ll only be able to make progress if the EU accepts the reality that we must be able to control access to our waters and it’s very important at this stage to emphasise that.”
Mrs von der Leyen told the EU Parliament she could not say if the trade and security deal would be reached in the “very little time ahead.
“These are decisive days for negotiations. Frankly, I cannot tell you today if in the end there will be a deal.”
She pledged to let Mr Barnier push his negotiating mandate to its limits to find solutions, saying: “We will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We’re ready to be creative.”